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in theaters

Review: Mother's Day

Apr 29 // Matthew Razak
[embed]220546:42940:0[/embed] Mother's DayDirector: Garry MarshallRated: PG-13Release Date: April 28, 2016  I think Mother's Day is supposed to be about being a mom because it's called Mother's Day, which seems like it would be the name of a movie about being a mom. It really isn't though. We find Sandy (Jennifer Aniston), a divorced mom with two kids still kind of pining over her ex-husband who has recently married a 20-year-old. There's Miranda (Julia Roberts), a HSN host who is somehow actually famous. And then Jesse (Kate Hudson) who has married an Indian man, Russell (Aasif Mandvi), without her racist parents knowing. Finally Bradley (Jason Sudeikis) has just lost his wife and is raising two daughters. Children actually play a very small part in this film as it's more about romantic relationships than being a mom -- don't worry, it fails at romance as well. There are plot lines in here involving children and becoming a parent, but they're buried under what has to be the worst screenplay written this year. It's seriously bad, and I'm not even discussing the casual racism it tosses around for no reason. The movie feels like the its four screenwriters (two male, two female) got together and wrote conversations for a group of women characters based on advice from an alien race who had only experienced conversations between females by watching soap operas. It is easily the most stilted tripe to ever pour out of any of these actors mouths. Watching the legendary Julia Roberts stoop so low in such a bad wig as some sort of favor to Garry Marshall was revolting.  The entire movie is revolting, especially since it somehow mistakes flat out racism for comedy. When Jesse's parents find out she's married to Russell as he accidentally walks in after they surprise her with a visit their first reaction is to wonder what a "towel head" is doing in her house. The audience at my screening instantly gasped and then sat there in horror as it only got worse. For some reason the filmmakers thought that the parents' flat out offensive and racist actions would be charming and whimsical, as if we're supposed to laugh along at those silly old folks who just disowned their grandchild for being "a little dark." No really, someone says that. I want to make it perfectly clear that jokes about race can be hilarious. Comedy is one of the best ways to address race issues, but this movie confuses using race for humor with actually being racist. None of the lines are actually jokes, they're just racist (and sexist and homophobic) statements said out loud as if that's enough to make something funny. Just because you say you're a comedy doesn't mean you can say offensive things without a punchline. There's no deeper meaning here either. Sure, in the end everyone comes around and no one is racist anymore (because it's that simple), but it's handled with such dull-witted ineptitude that you can only sit there with your jaw open and wonder if anyone making the movie actually understood the history humanity. I want to really stress just how incredibly out of touch with reality this film is. We'll ignore the fact that all the characters are cliches, none of the actors seem to actually care that they're there and that it easily has one of the worst soundtracks in the past ten years. We're ignoring all of this because at the end of Mother's Day Asif Mandvi, the only minority in the vehicle, gets out of an RV and a group of cops go to pull their guns on him. This is a joke. In the middle of a crisis of violence on minorities by police this film deems it appropriate to have an Indian man pinned to the ground as a group of white people, who very recently called him racial slurs, stand around gawking. That's it by the way. That's the joke. It just happens and everyone is OK with it once one of the cops RECOGNIZES THE INDIAN GUY AS HER DOCTOR. If I was Mandvi I would have walked off the set faster than an American Indian in an Adam Sandler film.  The only reason this movie didn't get a zero is because Jason Sudeikis is so damn charming even when he's stuck in crap like this. Crap where his meet cute is based around awkwardly buying tampons and then followed up by a second meet cute where his hand is stuck in a candy machine. Only that man could make something that stupid work, and even then one has to ask oneself why, in a movie called Mother's Day, one fourth of the lead characters needs to be a father. I get that it's supposed to be about the hole a mother leaves when she dies, but it really isn't at all and it makes for just another bit of sexism to add into this already turgid pile of crap.  There's about 50 other things wrong with this movie like why all the women seem to be constantly working out or why the only minority character aside from Mandvi and his mother is a sassy black woman. It would be impossible to catalog every way this movie is the film equivalent of the KKK projectile vomiting onto celluloid while a group of men attempt to write a screenplay about women with their penises, but I'll digress because I'm getting too angry and this human excrement of a movie isn't worth it.
Mother's Day photo
A racist, sexist, unfunny pile of crap
I'm not going to pull punches here because Mother's Day is easily the worst movie I have seen in years. It is unfathombly offensive, boring, unfunny and terrible in every way possible. I didn't head into it thinking it was go...

Review: Ratchet & Clank

Apr 28 // Matthew Razak
[embed]220548:42938:0[/embed] Ratchet & ClankDirectors: Jericca Cleland and Kevin Munroe Rated: PGRelease Date: April 29, 2016 There's nothing really wrong with Ratchet & Clank. It's a perfectly standard set up that pulls from all your other favorite science-fiction classics. Ratchet (James Arnold Taylor) is a Lombax mechanic on a remote desert planet who dreams of being like his hero, Captain Qwark (Jim Ward), but when tryouts for Qwark's team of heroes roll around he's laughed out of the building by the man himself. Luckily for him Clank (David Kaye) has just escaped from the evil Chairman Drek (Paul Giamatti) and Dr. Nefarious (Armin Shimerman), who have a dastardly plan to blow up some planets and make a new one. Due to a crash landing Clank meets Ratchet, the two become friends and adventure ensues all culminating in that oh-so traditional children's film lesson that you can be whatever you want with the support of friends and a wide array of weaponry. There is not really much more to it. You can insert almost every standard joke you've come to expect from tongue-in-cheek children's films and then add a few references to the game. They actually really under utilize the latter. For a game that's known for its funky and fun weapons the movie barely plays around with them. There is the expected montage of weapon use, but from there on out most of the action could rely on the basic blaster. Maybe that's a super meta commentary the directors had about the game's gameplay, but I seriously doubt it. That's not the only opportunity missed. One of the mainstays of the games (or the first two at least) was the great dynamic between the excitable Ratchet and the reserved Clank. The film barely touches this. We have to be introduced to the characters separately, of course, but once they're together the action keeps tearing them apart. Their dynamic is sidelined in favor of more Captain Qwark and the Galactic Rangers. This isn't all bad as Qwark has some of the funniest lines, but you still feel like the movie is more about Ratchet on his own than his friendship with Clank.  However, judging a movie for what it is not, especially a children's movie, is a bit unfair. Ratchet & Clank does move along at a perfectly good clip and the plot holes are all within acceptable range for the target audience. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the sight gags, which kids will most likely love, and the screenplay puts in enough jokes to keep any parent relatively entertained even if you've heard almost every one before. This isn't a movie that's out to top Pixar, but it will stand with your more basic Dreamworks animations any day.  The animation itself is good too, though nothing stellar. Having just come off the revolutionary The Jungle Book my eye might be a bit jaded, but just as there's nothing that will wow you in terms of animation there's also nothing that's going to put you off. It's just middle of the road throughout as with the rest of the film.  That goes for the voice acting as well, which was very clearly taken more seriously by some. The filmmakers brought in the game's voices for Ratchet, Clank and Captain Qwark and it shows. The actors' performances stand out among phoned in turns from the "name" actors, especially John Goodman who sounds like he wasn't quite sure what movie he was reading for the entire time. Thankfully those roles are smaller in scale and never bad enough to break the film, just to keep it at its constant level of acceptability.  No one was really expecting stellar things out of Ratchet & Clank and if you go in with that mindset you're going to come out having definitely seen a movie that fit it. I can't see hardcore fans of the franchise coming out of the film upset in any way because the movie is so inoffensive. I can't see anyone really coming out of the theater too excited except for a five-year-old wanting a pet lombax... and then having his dreams crushed when he finds out they don't exist.
Ratchet & Clank photo
Clanking along
Ratchet & Clank is the epitome of a film that doesn't do anything wrong, but that doesn't make it right. I suppose I should start by saying that I have not kept up with the games this movie is based on. I played the ...

Review: Green Room

Apr 25 // Nick Valdez
[embed]220533:42929:0[/embed] Green RoomDirector: Jeremy SaulnierRating: RRelease Date: April 22 and 29, 2016  At the center of Green Room is small town punk band The Ain't Rights, four kids Sam, Pat, Reece, and Tiger (Alia Shawkat, Anton Yelchin, Joe Cole and Callum Turner respectively). Everything goes awry during a performance at a Neo-Nazi den when they suddenly witness a murder and now they've got a veritable army of Nazis and their leader Darcy (Patrick Stewart) hunting them. Deciding to hole themselves up in the venue's green room, The Ain't Rights and their new ally, the mysterious Amber (Imogen Poots), try to survive the terrifying night to come.  To put it bluntly, at its core, Green Room is a film you've seen before. With its premise, it's easy to make comparisons to home invasions films or anything where it's one against many (Assault on Precinct 13 or even Die Hard come to mind), but that's where all of the similarities and predictability ends. Green Room takes the time to build an entire world around its tiny setting and it's all the more effective because of it. The film feels lived in, and it's almost as if we're jumping into a point of these kids' lives. The Ain't Rights themselves have a wonderful chemistry. An almost effortless gelling informs their life long friendship and I bought into it immediately. The four are given enough time as their characters to get comfortable and let each actor imbue themselves with little quirks and touches. In fact, some of the film's finest moments are early on when we're just getting to know the band. Because of the attention to the build up, it's all the more devastating when things come down around them.  I don't feel like I can stress this enough. Green Room is entirely unpredictable. The initial transition from humor to horror is seamless. Because of the care put into the characters, the audience essentially ends up in the confined space with them. The emotional stakes rise almost instantly and there's nary a bump in the production. It's like an emotional punch to gut, and that's before any violence takes place. Anton Yelchin and Patrick Stewart own these scenes in particular when the two of them speak on opposite ends of a door. Yelchin is constantly on the verge of tears (thus making us closer to him on a whole) while Stewart's eerily calm demeanor hides sinister motives. And just when you think you've got the film figured out, it changes tone completely. With controlled spontaneity through violence, Green Room continuously raises its stakes and never once feels overbearing in its tension.  The entire film's production is lined with a chilling vibe. From its metal and punk heavy soundtrack, its lighting (making sure everything is just dark enough to be unnerving while still making sure everything is visible and digestible), there's a special sense of dread permeating throughout and it's naturalistic. The crafted tone grounds its characters and setting begetting fear from a human place. Darcy's frightening introduction and speeches juxtapose Stewart's unassuming demeanor. It's kind of like how Breaking Bad slowly transformed Bryan Cranston's Walter White into Heisenberg over six seasons instead crammed into less than 90 minutes. Sometimes it doesn't work completely, but it's still utterly effective and damning. Thanks to the cast playing off of each other in such a tight space (and a stellar performance from everyone involved), it's an emotional thriller rather than a physical one. There are certainly visceral payoffs (and they're increasingly shocking in their brutality), but if you don't enjoy the film's emotional stakes then you won't connect as much overall.  Before seeing Green Room you need to know what you're getting yourself into. It's a nail biting thriller for sure, but if you're expecting some sort of all out knuckle brawl you'll be severely disappointed. This film is a thriller horror film in the traditional sense, so there's very little "action." When it does finally resort to such measures, Green Room excels. It's satisfying in such a weird, weird way.  And that's Green Room in a nutshell. It's disarming, gruesome, macabre, hilarious, cartoonish, will make you squirm, but it's a fun experience through and through. I'm going to remember this one for a while.
Green Room Review photo
Spontaneously brutal
Over the last few years, A24 has quickly become my favorite production studio. They've overseen everything from huge award winners like Room, Amy, and Ex Machina, critical darlings such as Spring Breakers and The End of the T...

Review: The Huntsman: Winter's War

Apr 22 // Nick Valdez
[embed]220532:42925:0[/embed] The Huntsman: Winter's WarDirector: Cedric Nicolas-TroyanRating: PG-13Release Date: April 22, 2016 As its title suggests, The Huntsman: Winter's War shifts its main focus to its titular huntsman, Eric (Chris Hemsworth). Before the events of the first film, the Evil Queen Raveena (Charlize Theron) had a younger sister named Freya (Emily Blunt). After the death of her daughter, Freya gains ice powers and goes off to form her own kingdom (complete with a ban on love), kidnapping children and training them as huntsman along the way. Eric ends up falling in love with another huntsman, Sara (Jessica Chastain), but Freya puts a stop to that. Then seven years later (and after the events of the first film), Freya vows to get Raveena's magic mirror and take over Snow White's kingdom.  Just as with the first film, Winter's War oozes with style. While some of its visuals borrow heavily from other fantasy worlds (such as the design of the huntsman themselves), costume design is still top notch. Capitalizing on one of the better aspects of the first film, Raveena and Freya's outfits are outlandish and gaudy in the best way. And although it results in less gaudy but fabulous dresses, the set design has also received an upgrade. Scene settings are more varied and feel more inspired, such as the jungle look of the goblin's den (and the gold chained gorilla goblins), but there's a definite lack of budget that knocks the film's overall presentation down a peg. The film's CG isn't always seamless, but the film tries its best to make sure at least the central women look good. At least Winter's War succeeds in that regard. Because their looks are perfected, Theron and Blunt are free to chew the scenery as they see fit.  And boy does Charlize Theron run the show. It's just a shame that the film keeps her separated from Blunt for the majority of it. The scenes where she's allowed to cheesily tear into Blunt's Freya turns Winter's War into a fantasy version of Dynasty as the two actresses try to out soap opera each other. It's the only time Blunt seems bothered enough to try, and her scenes with Theron clearly make Blunt's performance ring hollow the rest of the time. At least Chris Hemsworth get more to do this time around. The first film was before his breakout in The Avengers, and now he's got this affable personality which helps ease some of Winter's War's more troublesome attempts at humor and personality. But while mostly everyone involved is having a good time, no one really seems to care about what they're saying. It's halfhearted throughout.  Winter's War is further crippled by its poor storytelling. When it succeeds it can be funny, or even compelling, but thanks to its need to clutch to the first film rather than reset everything, the film makes no damn sense for the first thirty minutes or so. Thanks to a weird flashback story then a time jump seven years into the future, everything is rushed. We're never given the time to invest in Eric and Sara's relationship because all we get between the two is a few make out sessions (that linger on for a bit too long) before they're separated. It doesn't help that Hemsworth and Chastain are clearly phoning it in. Their scenes together seem to take the longest, and their faux scottish accents are so heavy, they're almost parodic. These scenes make you wonder when Theron's going to show up again. Given that she's really only in the film for about 20 minutes, the wait seems even longer. Give up the ghost already and give us a full Charlize Theron ham sandwich, Universal.  The Huntsman: Winter's War is a piecemeal fantasy that's just other fairy tales duct taped together into a two hour project. There's clearly an underlying effort being drowned by everyone's apathy (there's not even an effort to keep background skeletons from looking like they were bought in one of those pop up Halloween shops), and Winter's War barely cares it exists. It just does.  Going in I was hoping Universal re-examined the Huntsman series and kept what worked and threw out what didn't. But it did the complete opposite. The Huntsman: Winter's War is less of what we want, and more nonsense we don't need. 
Winter's War Review photo
What is it good for? Absolutely nothing
Despite Kristen Stewart and director Rupert Saunders being pulled from the series after allegations of an affair, bumping up visual effects supervisor Cedric Nicolas-Troyan to debut as director, and the first film gettin...


Review: The Jungle Book

Apr 15 // Matthew Razak
The Jungle BookDirector: Jon FavreauRated: PGRelease Date: April 15, 2016 [embed]220509:42914:0[/embed] As a property it's hard to believe that one could bring something new to The Jungle Book. Mogli's (Neel Sethi) story has been told so many times in so many different ways that retelling it again seems a bit redundant. This seems especially true since this version is part of Disney's ongoing effort to remake or reimagine their animated classics as live action films (see: Cinderella or Maleficent). Yet despite the fact that this new version of The Jungle Book once again finds Mogli raised by a pack of wolves and the panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley), hunted by the villainous tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) and eventually hanging out with the laid back bear Baloo (Bill Murray), it feels dramatically different from previous tellings of the story. The plot may be mostly the same as Disney's animated classic, but striking visuals and Favreau's surprisingly fluid direction make it an entirely new experience. Those visuals, though. You will spend half this movie wondering what is real and what isn't while marveling at the individual hairs on Baloo's back or how Baheera moves perfectly or how the fat on King Louie (Christopher Walken) is disturbingly realistic. If ever a film has crossed the uncanncy valley it is The Jungle Book. Yes, there are still some parts that get stuck in the low end of that valley, but overall it is a visual masterpiece. The most impressive part is that they did it all while featuring talking animals in situations that are sometimes entirely human. Everything feels real and yet is somehow full of the magic and wonder that more traditional animation brings. It is this combination of reality and magic that make The Jungle Book work so well. Hats off to Favreau for being able to pull this movie together. His direction is often striking and far more than you'd expect from a traditional children's film. Some shots seem to be pulled from an art house independent while others are pitch-perfect horror moments (still suitable for children). Most impressive though is the fluid way he moves Mogli and company through the jungle. Taking advantage of his almost entirely digital setting, Favreau stitches together fluid shots that make you feel like you're there. It helps that the IMAX 3D is simply breathtaking on the big screen and that digital animation always looks better in that setting. Though Favreau may miss a few beats here and there, they're mostly because he's playing towards a crowd of children who expect certain things from their movies.  The only truly inconsistent thing about the movie is Sethi, who, in all fairness, had an incredibly daunting task before him since he's the only actual person in the entire film. It's clear that he became more comfortable with that fact as shooting went on as his performance varies from absolutely stellar (banging out a rendition of "The Bear Necessities") to horribly awkward (being hypnotized by the snake Kaa, played by an utterly wasted Scarlet Johansson). Still, he performs admirably overall, and it's his animal counterparts who steal the show anyway. Murray's Baloo is both perfect casting and the chance to hear him sing Baloo's classic song would make any movie worth the price of admission. Throw in a rollicking scene with King Louie that has Walken delivering a mafia routine and a chilling rendition of "Be Like You" and it's hard not to be drawn in by the performances not to mention stopping your foot from tapping. Much of their performance can be chalked up to the stellar animation, especially Elba's Shere Khan, who lurks around the screen fearsomely while the actor's silky voice drips with menace.   This is a children's movie overall, however. In the end Disney wants kids to be pretending they're hanging out with Baloo, and the movie plays like that. It's almost a contradiction as they hyper-realism of the film means the darker parts have that much more impact and the scary parts are that much scarier. Often the look and tone of the film don't jive with each other, though that's probably only a complaint an adult would have.  That look is so good, however, that it almost doesn't matter if the tone feels off sometimes. This is a major step forward in what we should come to expect from our CGI, but more importantly to that target audience, it's actually fun. 
Jungle Book photo
More than the bear necessities
At this point in my jaded film critic life it takes a lot to actually impress me with special effects. We've seen Transformers and giant blue aliens and everything in between on screen by now, and great digital effects are al...

Review: Hardcore Henry

Apr 10 // Nick Valdez
[embed]220494:42906:0[/embed] Hardcore HenryDirector: Ilya NaishullerRating: RRelease Date: April 8th, 2016 Cheesy as it is, Hardcore Henry is about you. When "Henry" (the audience) wakes up in a mysterious facility with no memory of how he got there, his wife Estelle (Haley Bennett) explains that he's suffered major disfigurement from an accident and this facility has put him back together using machinery (basically a more violent version of the Six Million Dollar Man). Then some shadow organization chases Henry down for 90 minutes. And all while during this, a mysterious man named Jimmy (Sharlto Copley) and his many faces seems to be the only one who knows what's going on.  While I'd hate to classify the film in such basic terms, comparisons to a videogame narrative are unfortunately apt. Hardcore Henry gleefully revels in juvenile wish fulfillment. You'll sit back and watch Henry mow down waves of spawning enemies (with little to nothing to distinguish between any of them), you'll see him utilize a variety of weapons he apparently loots from dead bodies, and you'll watch as he peers around corridors and fights in hallways. Every trope from first person shooter videogames is represented and, for a while, it's fun to see unfold. Characters make quips, the first person perspective leads to some enlightening action angles, and there's definitely a joy and humor to how grotesque its violence gets as it goes on. But after about fifteen minutes of these action scenes, the premise wears thin and the film turns into a collection of hollow gore shots trying to outdo one another in order to garner some kind of reaction. And that's only including the ones you can manage to follow.  Hardcore Henry is so focused on how cool things might look it forgets to tell any kind of story. The film essentially puts all of its eggs in one basket as it hopes the flow of the action will keep you invested. Unlike most action films, Henry's voiceless and faceless protagonist can't add anything to the overarching story. He's got no personality, no defining traits other than a relentless need to kill (for some reason that's never quite elaborated on), and it's not like Henry is an all inclusive point of view either as there as some unfortunate homophobic jokes thrown in the mix and it's heavily male friendly as it vies for that sweet 13 year old Mountain Dew demographic. So you can't even fully immerse yourself as a viewer as multiple moments in the narrative remind you Henry isn't you. At least when videogame narratives do things like this, it eventually hands back control to the individual and gives you other options for immersion. There's just nothing here to latch onto.  The film's one saving grace is by and far Sharlto Copley. He's an absolute joy every time he's on screen. It's just a shame he has to singlehandedly carry the film's weight. He's stuck providing so much exposition, jokes, and personality it's kind of running him thin. It's also not helped by the unintelligible scene settings. Henry ends up in several locations with no way other than Copley's Jimmy to help discern where the action is taking place. The film could take place anywhere between an entire city length and the walking distance between my kitchen and bathroom. The film's main device seems to be holding it back in that visual respect. In reference to an old Simpsons gag, every time Jimmy wasn't on screen I felt myself wondering when he was going to show up again. But I wonder if that's because I wanted more of Copley or I was just starved for something to get me through the rest of the film like a lone floating log in the middle of Hardcore Henry's bleak and monotonous ocean of gore.  Hardcore Henry touts itself as a cinematic experience. The first action film of its kind, it's certainly going to get a lot of attention and praise based on existence alone. But it's lacking the level of immersion or direction its premise promises. If I really had to compare it to videogames, watching Hardcore Henry is like going over to a buddy's house and watching him play a game for an hour. It looks neat, and there are bound to be some things that grab your attention, but before long you'll be so bored you'd rather be at home. 
Hardcore Review photo
Normcore
From its inception as music videos for director Ilya Naishuller's band Biting Elbows, Hardcore Henry boasted an unique central idea: crafting a well told action film entirely through the first person perspective on Go Pro cam...

Review: The Boss

Apr 08 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]220481:42895:0[/embed] The BossDirector: Ben FalconeRelease Date: April 8, 2016Rating: R  I don't think you should watch that trailer. You can if you want, but you really shouldn't. It's the film's official Red Band trailer. I watched it just now, and it made me wonder how it's possible that I so enjoyed the movie that this was selling. Because the trailer looks awful. And it looks awful on pretty much every level. Like, I feel bad as a critic to say that I really liked The Boss. But you know what? I'm gonna own it. I really liked The Boss. I loved the scene where T-Pain came out, when Melissa McCarthy raps along to DJ Khaled's "All I Do Is Win" (which, you should know, I listen to at least once every few days (usually multiple times in a row)) while dancing and showing off how rich and awesome she is. It's probably a stupid scene, but T-Pain comes out to sing the chorus when it plays again, and they're dancing, and it's awesome. I don't care what anyone says about the rest of the movie; that sequence is gold. And it was enough that I was content having seen it. From there, it would have had to go to some really bad places to have lost me completely. But it didn't.  Ugh... it looks so dumb. (But I laughed really hard at this scene.) The premise is stupid. An obscenely rich woman (McCarthy) does some insider trading, and six months later she comes out of jail completely broke. She finds her former assistant (Kristen Bell), and is offered a chance to stay with her for a little while while she finds her feet, despite the fact that McCarthy was terrible to her. At some point, McCarthy decides to create a for-profit rival to a Girl Scouts analog called the Dandelions. Ignoring child labor laws entirely, the girls start selling brownies made at a frankly impossible pace to meet a ridiculous demand (the child labor thing, by the way, is never addressed... though I do think that an interesting case could be made that the girls getting 10% of girl scout cookie sales (with another 10% being put towards college) wouldn't necessarily be such a bad thing (I bought six boxes of Thin Mints this year, and they lasted me about two weeks (unrelated but still kind of relevant)))). Other dumb things get in the way, and then it's dumb how other things don't get in the way. Honestly, if I look at this with even a vaguely objective lens, the narrative is a complete and utter catastrophe. But I so don't care about that, because I didn't care about it while I was watching it. Yes, it certainly occurred to me that X, Y, and Z were ridiculous, but I was too busy laughing to care. A shocking number of the jokes worked for me, including some of the same jokes that I really don't like out of context in the trailer. Yeah, sometimes things fell flat, but more often than not it got me. And it's possible that sometimes I was laughing at the movie and not with it, but I don't really know that that distinction matters. The point of the film, the only point of the film, is to make me (as an analog for the entire audience) laugh. Every sequence (except the one emotional one that you know is coming) is there in service of that goal. And if that goal is achieved, then the film succeeded. It didn't succeed as anything other than a thing that made me laugh, but it did that. And that's really what I care about here. Yeah... I dunno. Whatever. I saw Bridesmaids in theaters. During one particular scene, I literally cried laughing, and in general I found it to be a hysterically funny film. Months (years?) later, I watched it again. I laughed at the scene that made me cry the first time, and I'm sure I giggled here and there outside of that, but the second time around, I was really just hit by a general sense of, "Ehhhhhh." And I wondered why I liked it as much as I did the first time around. Maybe it's something about the big screen, or maybe it's the infectiousness of an audience. Maybe I've just got an objectively terrible sense of humor, and this sort of low-brow stuff is the best I can hope for. Or maybe everyone else is wrong. As I type this, The Boss has an 18% on Rotten Tomatoes. I am, unfortunately, not on there (yet), so this review won't change that number, but clearly everyone else in my field hates it. As I walked out of the theater, I heard someone call it a "horror show." And I know plenty of others who just thought it was awful. If I were to see The Boss again, it's entirely possible that I would hate it and look back on my feelings about it right now as a tragedy and a shame on my record as a critic. But as much as it can try to be representative of the future, a review is a document of right now. You might have noticed that it's sort of a weird document, hedging a whole bunch of bets on the future, but that's because I'm still kind of shocked by how much I liked the film (especially after watching that trailer... because, wow). Yeah, it's stupid as hell, and not always in a good way, but I nonetheless enjoyed the time I spent watching The Boss. And, really, nothing else matters.
The Boss Review photo
Win. Win. Win. (No Matter What)
The first time I saw a trailer for The Boss was just a few weeks ago. I'd kind of generally ignored its existence, because... why wouldn't I have? I mean, honestly, it looked terrible. I saw that trailer and thought, "Yu...

Review: The Invitation

Apr 07 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]220474:42893:0[/embed] The InvitationDirector: Karyn KusamaRelease Date: April 8, 2016Rating: R  The title of The Invitation does not, as you might expect early on, refer to the invitation that you see moments in: a party invitation to the house of Eden and David. Eden hasn’t seen her friends in two years, since the tragic death of her son, and Will’s. Will is our protagonist, and to some degree the only character that the audience can truly empathize with. (The reasons for that we’ll discuss in a little bit.) The Invitation actually refers to a group (read: cult) that Eden and David joined while they were in Mexico, where apparently they spent much of those two missing years. We see bits and pieces of the cult, presented mostly through videos featuring the founder. We also get to experience it vicariously through the actions of the couple, David in particular. During one scene in particular, a series of confessions presented as a sort of "game," a stranger to the group, played by John Carroll Lynch (whose presence in the film is rarely a good sign (plot-wise, at least; I think he’s a fine actor), starts talking about about a horrible thing he did. It was during that speech where I felt compelled to tell no one in particular that what I was watching was upsetting. The Invitation is a lot of things, but there is one crucial thing it is not: surprising. It’s probably a spoiler to say you know exactly where this movie is going almost as soon as the film begins, but not really. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a film that telegraphs its “twist” so overtly from the word Go. As soon as Will and Kira enter the house, Will knows something is wrong, and you, the viewer, know something is wrong. Everything about it is wrong. It’s wrong in exactly the way that these kinds of things are always wrong. And, of course, Will is the only one who notices it. And you wonder why he’s the only one who notices. He wonders (aloud) why he’s the only one who notices, and I couldn’t help but think about the Cinema Sin’s narrator saying, “Will would be excellent at Cinema Sins.” It’s a little hard to swallow that they would all continue just going along with it. Only one person decides to leave, after that same monologue that I mentioned before. But the lack of surprise isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Told well, even the most generic story can still be exciting, and I think that is absolutely the case here. No, you won’t be wondering what’s behind the next door, but you will be excited to get there. The sense of unease is pervasive, and every frame drips with dread. This is a very pretty movie, with spectacular lighting in particular but camerawork in general. A few days ago, I watched a movie shot a while back, on 35mm film. A helicopter shot of Los Angeles showed a dark city, a patchwork of lights but ultimately a very dim place. In the background of The Invitation’s gorgeous location, you see the lights of that same city. But where films of old are dark, modern films are bright. The city shines, and it grounds you in a sort of reality. You know where this is happening, give or take. This isn’t some remote cabin in the woods. This is a house on a hill overlooking one of the most famous cities in the world. The Invitation is being sold as a psychological thriller, and that’s truest if you see the film less as an objective view of the situation and more as Will’s interpretation of it. This is an interesting thought to consider, because it may very well mean that my irritation with the general group’s inability to see just how wrong everything was is less a function of the narrative than of the presentation. Of course, the friends can’t hear the unsettling music or the off-putting camerawork. The movie wants me to know that something’s up, because Will knows that something is up. We’re in his head, and his head is in a very different place than his compatriot’s. Which is what makes it all the more fascinating that he’s ultimately correct. Oftentimes, intensely psychological films will reveal that the protagonist is the crazy one, that you’ve been lulled into this false belief that your character is reliable. Even if you know that there’s something a little off about them, you convince yourself that they’re fundamentally in the right. And then, when the final confrontation comes, you realize that no, that’s not true at all. And thinking about it through that lens, perhaps The Invitation is a little less typical than I initially gave it credit for. But then again, maybe it’s not. The reality is that this question of how it fits into genre canon doesn’t really affect its very fundamental successes. This is a movie that gets its hooks into you right from the get-go, and you’re anxious to see where it goes. You’re anxious because you’re excited, but also because you know that things cannot possibly end well. You’re anxious for the characters, even if you don’t necessarily care about them the way you care about Will. I didn’t feel like the other characters were neglected so much as they didn’t matter. Focusing on them, telling their stories more deeply, wouldn’t have really benefited the story that The Invitation tells, but that doesn’t mean the holes in the characterizations don’t show. You get glimpses of these characters, but there are many more questions than answers. The final moments of the film bears that out, that there’s a whole world of stories out there that we’re not seeing. It’s just like the reminders in the back of shots that LA is out there, seemingly just a stone’s throw away. And though that image itself feels a little bit like it’s sacrificing narrative logic for the sake a really cool shot (and it is a really cool shot), the implication of it is one worth thinking about. Stories don’t happen in isolation, even in the most isolating environments. And as I think back on the film, I want to stop picking it apart, realizing that certain moments didn’t work quite as well as I thought they did at the time. Because whatever negative things I might have to say, The Invitation is an exceedingly well-crafted film, and I enjoyed damn near every minute. 
The Invitation Review photo
Saw that one coming
I watched The Invitation alone in my apartment. I left the lights on, because I expected it to be scary and wasn't too keen on having a heart attack in pitch black. As it turns out, the film wasn’t scary, at least not i...

Review: The Boy and the Beast

Mar 04 // Nick Valdez
[embed]220368:42844:0[/embed] The Boy and the BeastDirector: Mamoru HosodaRelease Date: March 4th, 2016 (limited English dub release) Rating: PG-13 After the death of his mother leaves him in the care of his extended family, Ren (Eric Vale) runs away from home and ends up stranded on the streets of Shibuya. After following a hooded figure he ends up in a secret world of beasts and gods, and after witnessing a fight between two animals squabbling over lordship, he decides to stick around in the world and become a disciple of one of them, Kumatetsu (John Swasey), a red bear man. With both characters in it for their own selfish purposes (Ren, now named Kyuta, doesn't want to go home and Kumatetsu wants to prove he's capable of being a leader), the two must find someway to get along and make each other stronger. The Boy and the Beast is ostensibly a film about growing up, yet it's awesomely a film about coping with one's own selfishness. Rather than the typical monomyth, or hero's journey, the stakes always remain personal despite its grandiose setting. In telling its personal tale, the art of the film is much more subdued than in Hosoda's previous work. It's definitely not the first thing you'd expect upon hearing the premise, but its certainly surprising when the fantastical world the film takes place in feels so grounded. Colors are a bit muted (but not washed out), the film doesn't involve as much action as you'd probably expect from the premise. and despite the mystical nature of the beast world the character designs are more rooted in reality. The beastmen themselves are usually bipedal in nature and have lots of "human like" features with beast accents. Grounding the film like this goes a long way toward making the entire thing more digestible even when it goes off the rails a bit near the end of the film. Above all, the film is absolutely gorgeous. Other than some weird CG use toward the end, it's full of great stylistic choices.  I've spent the past few days just trying to pin down exactly what kind of film The Boy and the Beast is. It's like Digimon, Spirited Away, Kingdom Hearts, and a couple of My Chemical Romance songs had a baby and read it really obscure poetry every night. Suffice to say, this film isn't like anything you've seen before. I'm not even sure how this package holds together so well given all of its zanier ideas, but it just works. Going back to what I said earlier about its atypical monomyth story, Boy and the Beast is a fairy tale about adolescence. Mainly how adolescence often breeds copious bouts of anxiety (and loneliness as a result) when trying to find one's identity. "Lordship" basically equates to some kind of adult responsibility which one would use to truly ascend into well adjusted adulthood. I'd discuss a bit more about it here, but it'd spoil a bit of the movie. But I can say that when Kyuta faces that all important adult question of whether to pursue a different way of life or keep chugging along his current path because that's all he knows, it'll resonate a bit.  But the film doesn't exactly explore these themes perfectly. Subtlety isn't Beast's strong suit. While its two leads are well characterized (they're basically bickering brothers), they do skew the film's effectiveness. The characters don't really move the story forward well enough to follow through on a lot of its ideas, so we're left with a truly confusing and rapidly paced final quarter of the film. The climax just sort of happens without a well established lead in so there's not as much of a connection to it as intended. Speaking to that, pacing is all over the place. Some plots move too quickly to be developed, and other scenes are dragged out further than they need to be. Rather than feel like we're soaking in every aspect of the film and its world, sometimes it feel like I was crawling along in the goo snails leave as they move.  Even if The Boy and the Beast has some story and editing issues, it's definitely one of the more interesting animated films I've seen in some time. It's full of charm and it packs a genuinely emotional wallop. It's full of such crazy ideas that's it's hard not to completely fall in love with this film. It's one of Hosoda's best, if not his most peculiar.  The Boy and the Beast is not, uh, the least. 
Boy and Beast Review photo
Boy, this is a good movie
Mamoru Hosoda is behind some of my favorite animated films: Summer Wars, Wolf Children, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, and even The Digimon Movie. His direction always brings what's best about the animation medium to the fo...

Review: London Has Fallen

Mar 04 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]220381:42847:0[/embed] London Has FallenDirector: Babak NajafiRelease Date: March 4, 2016Rating: R  London Has Fallen seems like a movie made for people who really like Call of Duty. And while that sounds rather negative (because it is), I don’t necessarily mean that people who really like Call of Duty would like London Has Fallen, just that, in the boardroom meeting where this film was designed, at least one person said, “Let’s make this like Call of Duty. Call of Duty players are out target audience.” And everyone else said, “Call of Duty… that’s that thing that makes lots of money, right? We think making lots of money is a great idea. Let’s do it! It'll be cool.” It’s a film grown in a test tube to appeal to “bros” who like to think they crack wise. They’ll sneak in Budweisers to the movie and rowdily laugh every time Gerard Butler says some witty one-liner. They’ll think, “Wow! What a cool guy!” and high five or something. That’s what bros do, right? Clearly I’ve never been one.  More than Call of Duty, though, London Has Fallen reminds me of Youtube. Specifically, it reminds me of the channel formerly known as Freddiew. I don’t really watch Freddie Wong’s stuff anymore, but the short, vfx-heavy action videos that he used to post weekly were things I looked forward to. They weren’t perfect, but they were fun. Short, sweet, and to the point. On some level, so is London Has Fallen, a film that’s only about 90 minutes long, so it doesn’t spend a whole lot of time on unnecessary setup. For the most part, it just gets in and goes. People die. Gerard Butler has to save the day. Cool? Cool.  But the reason I compare it to Youtube is two-fold: 1) It doesn’t look very good. The VFX are shoddy throughout and it’s just a generally visually unappealing movie. I haven’t necessarily seen better on Youtube, but I’ve seen things that were on par. (Before I get into number 2, I really just want to make a point about how much I miss squibs. Yeah, they’ve been long dead, but the impact of real fake blood in a scene is so significant. There have been instances of CGI blood that have been convincing enough, but they certainly aren’t in London Has Fallen. Every death is accompanied by a little sigh, a feeling of missed opportunity. Sure, real fake blood is complicated, but it adds to the production, and this movie needed a higher-level production.)  2) Oh my god it’s vapid. Everything about it is just so… dumb. It feels like there was enough story for a short film (that I might see on Youtube) and then it was stretched out to 90 minutes because that’s how money happens. Dumb fun is dumb fun, but a little bit of effort would have been nice. It feels like absolutely no effort went into any part of this. A lazy script begets a lazy movie. And this movie is lazy.  It’s also cynical. The reason I thought of Freddie Wong in particular is because of a video he did many years ago, a firefight done in a long take. There’s a sequence in London Has Fallen, one that I think was supposed to be “epic” or “impressive,” that I just couldn’t fathom the reason for. Going to take a terrorist stronghold, London Has Fallen does that single-take-action-sequence thing. I love long takes, and I love long takes in action sequences, so I really should have loved the scene, but I just couldn’t do it. As I watched it, I could only think, “This is here because it has to be. No one really wanted to do this shot, because no one really wanted to do any of this.” Freddie Wong did it, so London Has Fallen had to do it too.   What makes the film hard to stomach is the fact that Gerard Butler’s character is a legitimately horrible human being. He is just cruel. He kills a man while his brother listens. Sure, he was a bad dude and may as well be dead, but in that way? Even the movie comments on it: “Did you really have to do that?” asks his companion. “No.” And that’s the movie in a nutshell. The filmmakers may as well as been turning to the audience and winking in that moment, and it just felt gross. Gerard Butler’s character likes knives. He likes stabbing people, and all I can think about is Heath Ledger’s Joker explaining why he prefers knives as well. Watching a movie about a sociopath with a smart mouth isn’t really enjoyable; it’s uncomfortable. And maybe if there was more to the rest of it, I could have blocked that out. I could have looked at the pretty visuals or rooted along with the action, but there was nothing. It was just me and the evil man who the film thought was the good guy. And that’s just not cool.
London Has Fallen Review photo
Not worth the effort to try being clever
A month ago, I signed up for Movie Pass. It’s a service where, for $45 a month, I can see a movie in a participating theater (which is most of them) every 24 hours. It’s a pretty cool deal, especially in New York ...

Review: Deadpool

Feb 11 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]220353:42833:0[/embed] Deadpool Director: Tim Miller Release Date: February 12, 2016 Rating: R I think Deadpool will go down in history as the superhero movie that changed everything. It’s all been flipped upside down now. And I can tell you exactly when it happened. During a particularly fantastic montage, time passes through the holidays and a couple’s sexual exploits. It goes and goes and goes, and then suddenly Ryan Reynolds is on all fours. And you think, “No way.” And then, yes way, his girlfriend pegs him. If you don’t know what pegging is, you’re, uh, welcome to look it up. The point is: This is a movie that features that scene. That fascinating, beautiful scene. Of course, I knew right from the outset that this movie was a big deal. Its opening credits are brilliant not just because of what they show, but what accompanies them. It doesn’t some “A Tim Miller Film”; it says “Some douchebag’s film.” Not “Ryan Reynolds” but “God’s Perfect Idiot.” “Produced by Assholes.” Etc. And none of these people get named until the credits roll. Can you imagine that? This big-budget studio movie features an opening credits sequence, but it uses that sequence for an extended gag. No one is above it. Nothing is sacred. Presumably, that’s what you want from a Deadpool movie. I don’t really know, but the elated reaction of those around me certainly implied as much. It’s what I wanted, even though I didn’t necessarily know it at the time. I just knew that I wanted to have a good time and maybe see some fourth walls get broken. Also, ya know, I wanted to see what an R-rated superhero movie would look like. Because no, this is not the first R-rated comic book movie (or even superhero movie), but it is most assuredly the first R-rated superhero movie like this. When I try to think of anything at all like it, I just come up with Kickass. Maybe Wanted? Something inspired by Mark Millar. But those films honestly aren’t anything like Deadpool. They’re small scale, lacking the truly explosive factor of actual superheroes who can actually wreck things with their magical super skills. Deadpool has that, in the form of two members of the X-Men: “An Emo Teen” and “A CGI Character,” per the opening credits. (Of course, you wonder why they only have two, and two that I’d never heard of before. Well, so does Deadpool! Or, rather, he answers it, rhetorically: “It’s like the studio didn’t have enough money for anyone else.” (Or something to that effect.)) But these characters serve as the perfect foil to Deadpool. The emo teen is just that, an emo teen, and Deadpool loves it. He is so absolutely into her attitude problems, and, as such, so was I. The CGI character, whose CG presentation is so-so but effectively justified by him being introduced as “A CGI Character” is even better. He wants to be in a PG-13 X-Men movie so badly, but Deadpool just has to go and do R-rated things. The dynamic there is a joy to watch, and it The first trailer for Batman V. Superman came out around the same time as the first season of the Netflix Daredevil series. At the time, I got into a debate (well, argument) about grittiness in comic book movies. She claimed (and was not alone in thinking) that it was hypocritical of people to praise Daredevil’s grit in the same sentence that they lambasted BvS’s. Of course, that argument is fundamentally flawed, because it’s not about “grit” at all; it’s about staying true to the character. Daredevil’s world is a dark one, a gritty one. Batman’s too, really. Superman has a symbol for hope on his chest, and he’s… what? Man of Steel is a lot of things, but hopeful ain’t one of them. And it doesn’t look like Dawn of Justice is going to do much to change that. Marvel let Daredevil be the character he’s supposed to be, while DC didn’t do the same for a man who blocks bullets with his eyes. Deadpool is Marvel, once again, letting a character be who they should be. I’m oh-so-glad that this was a Fox production and not a Disney one, because I don’t think that would have been true if Disney had handled it. If Deadpool was part of the Cinematic Universe, I think… well, I don’t even think they would have tried to put the character in at all. He simply cannot work within that context. But he can work within his own, and the one in which the X-Men are real. The Fox MCU is all about mutants, and Deadpool both as a title character and a film in general is consistent with that. But Fox took a gamble making an R-rated superhero movie. They could have tried for mass-market appeal (maybe) and neutered the character entirely. But instead, they said, “No. You want Ryan Reynold’s to get pegged? Go for it, dude.” It’s a gutsy move, and it pays off in spades precisely because it feels right, even to someone who knows nothing about Deadpool. I know that this film did the character justice, because there are too many crazy decisions for them to not be. Nothing about this movie is “safe,” and that’s exactly the way it should be. Some people will complain about the fact that we’re getting yet another origin story and that the origin story itself isn’t unique or whatever, but neither of those things bothered me. There are two reasons for that. 1)    I don’t know Deadpool’s origin story. 2)    Being “Original” isn’t even sort of the point. Deadpool’s origin, as told by this film, is fucked up. Honestly, the torture sequences wouldn’t be out of place in some kind of horror movie (something which the film itself notes). The fact that it’s so brutal does make it stand out (thinking back on it, V for Vendetta seems similar, particularly given how the kraken is released), but even if it didn’t, so what? I may be able to expect the beats, but I don’t know them line-for-line like Batman or Spiderman or whoever. As a way to introduce this character to what will hopefully be a flourishing franchise, I really wouldn’t have had it any other way. For the second time in three months, I am imploring you to see this film. Not just because it’s excellent (though it is), but also because it’s a film that deserves success. (Side note: Both this and The Revenant were distributed by Fox. Good on those people. Seriously.) This is a gamble that paid off in spades from an entertainment perspective, and I want it to make a heckuva lot of money. So, make it happen. I know that I’ll be seeing it again. And again. (And again.) ((And again.)) It’s so good, you guys.
Deadpool Review photo
Probably the best superhero movie ever
I have never read a Marvel comic. There. I said it. In fact, I’ve never read any superhero comic that isn’t about a man who dresses like a bat. I think superheroes are all well and good, but I’ve never felt ...

Review: Hail, Caesar!

Feb 05 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]220336:42811:0[/embed] Hail, Caesar!Directors: Joel and Ethan CoenRelease Date: February 5th, 2016Rating: PG-13  I feel for whoever it was who had to cut together the trailer for Hail, Caesar! I imagine it was a nightmare scenario, trying to take what is really just a series of occasionally linked comedic sequences and turn it into something that appears to be dramatic and compelling. And so whoever it was built a narrative, one where George Clooney, a big-name actor who sometimes forgets his lines at key moments, is kidnapped by a mysterious organization, and stars like Channing Tatum and Scarlett Johansson are enlisted to help get him back. Cameo appearances by Tilda Swinton and Jonah Hill and the like just serve to make it all one big star-studded Hollywood mystery. But… no. That’s not what Hail, Caesar! is at all. A couple of those things happen, but the context presented in the trailer is, to put it bluntly, bullshit. In fact, that opening, with George Clooney’s big speech? That takes place less than ten minutes from the end of the film. Yeah. That’s not the introduction to that character. It’s the resolution. In fact, much of the trailer comes from the second half of the film, and it almost feels like it went in reverse chronological order. The “reveal” of the secret society that ends the trailer feels like a big end-of-act reveal. Maybe the end of the first act? And sure enough, that does happen around then. Problem is, all of the imagery the trailer subjected us to up until that point takes place after we already know who they are. Because it’s not even really a secret. I’m not going to tell you, but that’s pretty much entirely because you’ve already had the ending spoiled, so why not give you something?  You don’t watch Hail, Caesar! for the narrative, because there is no narrative. As I said, it’s a series of occasionally linked comedic sequences. That’s honestly the best way to describe it. Characters come in, do their funny thing, and then are never seen from again. Or they come in briefly a handful of times, all teasing some far more interesting existence than the one we’re seeing. It’s all potential. This is a film of unending potential. Each character has a backstory that seems rich enough to justify not necessarily a movie, but certainly an episode of a series. I would watch Hail, Caesar! the series. None of the myriad characters really gets their due, and it’s such a shame. I wanted more of damn near everyone. And arguments could be made that being left wanting is better than the alternative, but I have to wonder: What’s the point of it all? It’s like a cupcake with a nice foil wrapper. You look at it, and it looks good. You take a first bite, and it is good. But then you pull back the foil wrapper, and you realize that there’s nothing more to the cupcake. It’s just air. You liked those couple of bites you got, but you’re so disappointed that that’s all there was. No cream filling? Heck, you would have even accepted just more cake! But you don’t get that. Instead, you just have a well-crafted cupcake top in the guise of something more. Of course, what is there is good. Let’s not pretend otherwise. The Coen Brothers are beloved for a reason: They know how to make good movies. Hail, Caesar! is pretty, funny, fun, and any number of other adjectives, but that’s just baseline. There’s nothing more here to remind you of why the Coen Brothers are a household name. You get some really fun sequences – and I sincerely hope that the musical numbers are practice for a full-blown musical film that they’ve got up their sleeves – but there’s nothing to really bite into. You go from fun thing to fun thing, always expecting more. Always hoping for more. Always feeling that there is more, but the Coen Brothers don’t think you’re cool enough to see it. When I think about the movie, I don’t really have any “complaints,” per se. I have my big fundamental issue, but from moment to moment, there’s not really much negative to say. But there’s also nothing wildly positive to say. This is a movie that is Good and nothing more. It doesn’t even really aspire to be more. It seems content in its Goodness. I don’t have a problem with Good movies – I appreciate any movie that has the audacity to be simply enjoyable – but I wanted this to be great. And it just isn’t. I never thought that word, or felt it, but I wanted to oh so badly. I felt like there were times where I should have thought, “Wow! That was great!” but I just… didn’t. And from the Coen Brothers, that stings. They’ve made so many classics, comedic and otherwise, that something merely Good from them feels lazy. This is a Coen Brothers puff piece, some something they did to fulfill a contract. And a Coen Brothers puff piece is still worth seeing, but it’s certainly not something worth celebrating.
Hail, Caesar! Review photo
Act One?
Joseph Kahn, director of Detention, the best film ever made, is an exceedingly well respected music video director. Most recently, he’s known as the guy who makes all those amazing Taylor Swift music videos. Together, t...

Review: 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

Jan 15 // Matthew Razak
13 Hours: The Secret Solidiers of BenghaziDirector: Michael BayRated: RRelease Date: January 15, 2016 [embed]220292:42774:0[/embed] For anyone running into 13 Hours hoping for some sort of political charged hit piece (on either side of the aisle) you'll be heavily disappointed. This movie is all Michael Bay and no Michael Moore. While there are a few snide remarks here and there, the movie is surprisingly apolitical, choosing to instead focus on the action-packed adventures of six CIA military contractors who protect a secret CIA base after the attack on the US "embassy" in Benghazi. Of course, if you go into the film believing in a certain narrative of what took place that night this movie is going to do nothing, but reaffirm your beliefs. It is stuffed full of Bay's die hard patriotism and love of people shooting things to solve problems.  The movie focuses on Jack Silva (John Krasinski) as he arrives in Benghazi just before the attacks on the embassy. He's introduced to the job by the team's lead Tyrone 'Rone' Woods (James Badge Dale) and then everything starts to catch on fire. The rest of the movie is a beefed up version on what may or may not have happened that night in Benghazi. While the film opens station that this is a true story it is very clearly Michael Bay's version of a true story. What does that mean? Prolific gun fights and plenty of explosions that may or may not have actually occurred. Block long drives, that were most likely very tense at the time, are turned into all out car chases. Bodies are mowed down left and right as bullets rip through them. A bus explodes in grandiose fashion. Men all have six packs and women -- sorry, make that woman -- are all gorgeous. It's pure Bay or it would be if it wasn't about an actual attack and incredibly politically charged. What's horribly annoying is this is probably Michael Bay's most competently made action film in quite some time. Despite it running longer than it needs to, Bay actually pieces together his action sequences with some understanding of the basic of film editing and pulls off an impressively decent pace for the film. The characters, while trite at times, are all given surprising emotional depth and handled with even more surprising care. As Pain & Gain showed us, when Bay wants to actually focus on something other than women's legs and explosions the results can actually be interesting.  However, it is nearly impossible to separate this film from the "true story" it is telling. The producers definitely didn't want to as they kept the horrendous subtitle attached to 13 Hours for all the promotion. In the case of saying something the movie fails again and again. It's blind belief in the heroism of the American soldier and inability to get out of its own cookie cutter cliches lead it from something that could offer some actual commentary into a simple, though emotional, action flick. Ignoring the politics of the subject matter might be both the worst and best thing the movie does, simultaneously making it work and fail at the exact same time. It can probably be best summed up by a point near the movies end after a truly tense 30 minutes of film one of the characters turns to the encampments translator and deadpans, "Your country's gotta figure this shit out." It's deep thoughts like that that rip away at the good parts of the film. Krasinki is probably the highlight and a brilliant bit of casting. His affable nature imbues Jack Silva with a humanity that defies the stereotypical tough-guy stuff. His performance adding layers to the normal bravado we get from patriotic cinema, and in turn pulling out more from the actors around him. It can't truly elevate the film above what it is, but damned if he doesn't try. Despite all the pretense and marketing and "true storying" 13 Hours turns out to be just a decent Michael Bay film made worse by its connection to a political scandal it seems to want nothing to do with. It turns out you can't have it both ways. Either you're making a movie about Benghazi or you're not. Bay tried so hard not to it ironically overwhelms everything else. 
Benghazi Review photo
Not so secret
(Editor's Note: This review was written before the knowledge that there was a 10 Cloverfield Lane trailer before the movie. Press did not get to see that trailer. If I had the film would have gotten a 10/10 off of the wa...

Review: The Forest

Jan 08 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]220259:42746:0[/embed] The ForestDirector: Jason Zada Release Date: January 8, 2016Rating: PG-13  I knew I was going to dislike The Forest from the moment I was reminded of its premise. It’s about the Aokigahara Forest, one of two films about that in the works (the other is directed by Gus Van Sant, and by default I expect it will be the best Aokigahara-focused film of 2016). Aokigahara is a forest in Japan, the most popular suicide spot there and one of the most popular in the world. There are demons there, too, at least as far as the film is concerned. But none of that bothers me. I mean, who doesn’t love a good Japanese horror film? Problem is, it’s not a Japanese horror film. It’s a film about a white girl, a blonde white girl named Sarawho doesn’t speak Japanese going to find her not-blonde white girl twin sister, Jess, who may or may not speak Japanese. Jess went into the Suicide Forest (it’s actually called that, by the way), presumably to commit suicide. Sara goes to find her, because her twin sense continued to tingle. If something was really going to go wrong, she’d know because the twin sense would go silent. It’s a thing that twins have. (So they say.) It’s somewhere between familial bonding, quantum entanglement, and supernatural garbage. My instinct is that it falls towards that latter one, because that’s really the best way to explain the film. It makes me legitimately angry that I spent a fair portion of The Forest looking away from the screen. The easiest example to point to takes place… at some point, I don’t even remember when. Sarah is walking down a hallway, and the lights are flickering on and off. As she goes down, ON, flicker, OFF, pause. ON, flicker, OFF, pause. It’s quiet. You know and have known since she got into the hallway that at some point it’s going to flicker on and something is going to jump out at the screen. You know it because that’s how these things work, when they have nothing else to show. And The Forest does it. And I jumped a bit. I was looking just offscreen, but the sound and the sudden movement got me up a bit. And I was infuriated. Years ago, I reviewed a film called Replicas (later retitled In Their Skin). A commenter chastised me for being "defeated by that mediocre film." I stand by my glowing assessment of that film, but that comment has stuck with me ever since. It’s basically how I feel about my reaction to The Forest. In the climactic scenes, the ones where things are supposedly “scary,” I was able to watch the film just fine, because it wasn’t jumpy any more. It was just “atmospheric” or whatever. But, of course, it wasn’t. I stared at it, almost feeling bad for what didn’t even seem like an honest attempt at horror. I have trouble imagining anyone feeling the slightest twinge of fear while watching that final sequence. (The only legitimately unsettling sequence was in a cave with an overly happy Japanese girl. Her performance made me rather tense, though the ultimate place that encounter went didn’t even make sense with the narrative, so that one moment of potential good was ruined.) In those jump moments, I braced myself for the impact. I tensed my body, looked away from the screen, and hated everything about it. Every single scare was so obviously telegraphed literally minutes before it happened. And other people in the theater jumped each time as well. It felt so clinical, so scientific. Like they had focus tested exactly how many times the light should flicker before the elderly woman popped out. They knew how to get a rise out of people, and they knew that there was nothing else to get people into the theater. They could put out a trailer of just people jumping, like they did for Paranormal Activity all those years ago, and maybe a few people would go see it. But it’s a cheat. You take a forest. You take an issue like suicide. You tell people that the forest doesn’t kill you, it makes you kill yourself – which is a fascinating concept, by the way, and I would like to see it play out in a better film. At some point, it threatens to deliver on that concept, but the actual execution is so shoddy that it’s barely worth considering (and, like so much else, it can’t stick the landing). When I got out of the theater, I had these grand visions of writing a multi-thousand word essay on the nature of fear, but as I look back on it, The Forest doesn’t deserve that. It doesn’t really even deserve the thought that I’ve already given it. Don’t see The Forest. If it doesn’t make you angry, then you’ll just be bored, wishing you’d seen The Revenant instead. That’s sort of a horror movie, and it also takes place in the woods. And it’s awesome. Go see The Revenant. Forget The Forest exists. By the time this has posted, I know I will have.
The Forest Review photo
Nope
I’ve written before about how wimpy I am at horror movies. I don’t know that I’m “scared” easily, but I’m exceedingly jumpy. A loud sound, sudden movement, or anything of that sort will lau...

Review: The Hateful Eight

Dec 24 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]219767:42546:0[/embed] The Hateful EightDirector: Quentin TarantinoRelease Date: December 25, 2015 (Limited); January 6, 2015 (Wide)Rating: R  I’m certainly not the first (and will absolutely not be the last) to point out how fascinating it is that The Hateful Eight was shot on Ultra Panavision 70. As I said before, this format is meant for showing vistas. It’s wide, brilliant, epic. The movie, when seen in the road show format, runs more than 3 hours including its 12 minute intermission. There’s an overture, where you listen to Ennio Morricone’s score, which may not be his best but is certainly epic enough to get you pumped up for adventure. You assume that you’re gonna see sights, particularly landscapes, that will boggle your mind. The opening shot has something of an epic feel to it. It’s Jesus (oh hi there, Christmas!) on a cross in the middle of nowhere. The shot is obscenely long, showing you very little as the credits play. You get a vista at the end of it, a pretty cool one too, and it hopes you like that vista, because you ain’t getting many more like it.  It’s a slight exaggeration to say that this is a one-location film. It’s not an exaggeration at all to say it’s a two-location movie. The majority of the film, yes, takes place in a cabin. But the first couple of chapters take place in a carriage. There are run-ins with folk outside the carriage, but everything is based on what’s within, and there are some conversations where you sit and watch two people talk, knowing that those vistas you were expecting are off to the side, but wow can’t you just see every little detail in this carriage? You’re aware of the epic look and sound – movies just aren’t like this anymore – but you’re hyper-aware of it because it just doesn’t seem to fit the material. Here’s an intimate story about a bunch of dudes and one lady in a cabin. The lady, Jennifer Leigh, is the Important character. She’s the head of some gang, and she’s been bounty hunted by Kurt Russell. (They say “Dead or Alive,” but he likes them “Alive.”) He’s convinced people want to take her from him, since she’s worth a whole lot of money and is also the leader of a gang with plenty of people waiting to set her free. Some of the people in the cabin are on Kurt Russell’s side. Some are neutral. Some are not. At least one is indifferent to Kurt Russell but not particularly happy with Samuel L. Jackson. There's plenty of hate to go around, and much of it is played out in Tarantino's signature talk-y style.  Here's the thing: If you don't like Tarantino's writing, you're not going to like The Hateful Eight. You probably could have assumed that much, but it bears repeating, because this movie is absolute, unadulterated Tarantino. And how you feel about Tarantino will radically change how you perceive the effectiveness of the drama. One friend thought it was great and only periodically masturbatory, and another thought it was meh and little more than a one-man circlejerk. (How's that possible? I dunno, but Tarantino could definitely pull it off.) I fell closer to the former than the latter, but it honestly didn't bother me either way. I was swept up in the whole thing. With just two locations, the emphasis shifts to the actors, and Tarantino pulled in an all-star cast. Each person gets their time to shine, and all of them do. Alliances form and break, hidden motivations are revealed in spectacular fashion, and it's just generally full of wonderful intrigue. I can see why there was a reading of this script, because it would be cool as hell even without all of the extra stuff going on. Well, that's true for the first half. After the intermission, the film changes. It begins with voiceover, something you don't see in the first half, and it's bloodsoaked, the way Tarantino's movies often are. But it's also when the Big Reveals all take place, and boy are there some interesting ones. This is a film that begs for repeat viewings, because a whole lot of things happen that you realize in retrospect were telegraphed in fantastic ways. It makes you want to go back and see those things as they happen and then catch all the ones you missed. It's all this big, interconnected jumble of actions, and it's pretty freaking awesome. It's also imperfect, but in ways that ultimately don't matter. If you're a fan of Tarantino, you should see the movie. If you aren't but live in one of the selected cities, consider the Road Show version anyway, because the whole experience is Worth It. If you're not a fan and don't live in one of those cities, though, you shouldn't bother. This will not be the movie to change your mind about him and his work. This is typical Tarantino. I like that. I enjoyed it. And I'm going to see it again. I don't think that anything else needs to be said.
The Hateful Eight photo
Apt description
From the outset, The Hateful Eight has been a Big Deal. Tarantino was gonna do it, but the screenplay leaked, so he wasn’t gonna do it, until there was a reading, so he was doing it again. I paid pretty much zero attent...

Review: Sisters

Dec 18 // Matthew Razak
[embed]220235:42741:0[/embed] SistersDirector: Jason MooreRated: RRelease Date: December 18, 2015  Sisters is about Tina Fey and Amy Poehler playing sisters Maura and Kate Ellis. Maura is the goody-two-shoes and Kate is the partying train wreck and despite the fact that they clearly didn't do anything together as children they grew up the best of friends. But now their parents are going to sell their childhood home and so the two decide to throw one last "Ellis Island" party recapture their youth and get Maura a new man.  The comedy revolves around the somewhat tired trope of old people doing young people things. Because of this the movie really only survives on the strength of its two leading stars. As is par for the course Poehler and Fey turn it performances and chemistry that elevate the quality of the entire film. A lot of the jokes would just be flat out bad if you they weren't the ones delivering them, and the fact that they clearly act like sisters in real life makes it all the more fun to watch them joke around on screen. There's nothing special about the comedy here, but they make it work. The rest of the film is kind of perfunctory at best. The usual cast of SNL alum march out to deliver whatever comedy they've been assigned and most of the movie is taken up by the big party, during which a ludicrous amount of things go on. This includes the destruction and complete drywalling of an attic ceiling as if it was a ten minute project. I can suspend disbelief for most things, but as someone who has put up drywall this is just completely unbelievable. Thankfully it was followed up by a pretty hilarious scene where Ike Barinhotz gets a ballerina music box stuck where the sun don't shine. It's this really weird balance of Fey and Poehler's honest comedy and the far out slapstick that makes Sisters feel entirely unbalanced. At one point you're enjoying it thanks to the cast and at the next you're wondering how you accidentally started watching Grown Ups 2. That's not entirely fair. One shouldn't just throw around an insult like that. I went to far and I apologize. The point being that Sisters is a movie with some jokes that work and some jokes that don't. It features funny comedians who can take tepid content and turn it into something decent to good. You will laugh and you might even at some point feel something, despite the movie's insipid ending.  To conclude: this is a movie that is not Star Wars and there really isn't much more to say. 
Sisters Review photo
Movies that aren't Star Wars
For some reason someone out there thought that releasing a film the same week as Star Wars: The Force Awakens was a good idea. You can kind of see the logic in releasing Sisters this week, I suppose. The studio is h...

Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Dec 16 // Matthew Razak
[embed]220217:42739:0[/embed] Star Wars: The Force AwakensDirector: J.J. AbramsRated: PG-13Release Date: December 16, 2015 After the conclusion of Return of the Jedi Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has disappeared and no one knows where to find him (Sidenote: In the meta world of J.J. Abrams this plays right into Hamill's absence from all advertising). In his absence the dark side has begun to establish itself once again in the form of The First Order, which is basically the Empire reconstituted. They are led by Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), a Sith lord in training and pupil of the Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). Meanwhile the Resistance, commanded by General Leia (Carrie Fisher), is fighting back with the support of the Republic behind it. More importantly, though, on a small desert planet a map to Luke Skywalker ends up inside a droid called BB-8, who is subsequently found by a scavenger named Rey (Daisey Ridely). She is joined by a fleeing storm trooper named Finn (John Boyega) and a few other familiar faces as they try to get the map to the Resistance.  An adorable droid with a secret message found on a desert planet. A group of rag-tag rebels fighting against a militaristic empire. A dark lord in a black helmet. A young hero drawn into the fight through chance. Sound familiar? It should. You can simply pop in A New Hope and you'll have most of the plot for this one.  Much like J.J. Abrams did with Star Trek: Into Darkness he has taken a beloved movie and remade it for the fans. Almost everything is a throwback to the original movies, and only the original movies. It's very obvious that Abrams does not want anyone even remotely thinking about Episodes I-III. As such this is a giant film of fan service from throw away lines to cameos to plot to visuals. If it's a memorable moment from Episodes IV-VI it's probably somewhere in this movie. Whether you consider that a good thing or not is up to you, for this fan it was awesome, despite some concern that we're just seeing a bit of misguided fan placation like Into Darkness. Last week Lucas let slip his opinion of the film and he said that the fans would love it. It's easy to see why that's his opinion. The movie doesn't really break new ground, which is probably its most disappointing aspect. It definitely has plenty of twists and surprises for fans, but this isn't really a universe expanding premise. It feels more like a reset. The Force Awakens is the palette cleanser that's wrapping up everything with its nods to the old guard and its introduction to the new. Hopefully, it's the new that's going to stick around. The best part of the film are our two new heroes and villain, Rey, Finn and Kylo Ren, respectively. While old faces showing up is fun and all, it's these three newcomers who breath life into the movie. It's these characters that change the movie from a bunch of fan service into something genuine and good -- something that feels like Star Wars. They are us on screen: awed by the legends they're walking with, cowed by the power they have, and establishing a new struggle between dark and light. If these are the characters we'll be joining on this new journey then we're in good hands. With Abrams sticking around we'll be in good directing hands as well. To start, someone talked with him about lens flares and despite all the opportunities that lightsabers offer for such an effect he is impressively restrained with their use. This applies to his entire style for the film, which feels closer to the gritty-ness of the original trilogy than the high gloss of the second set. You'll also be happy to hear that Lucas' stilted dialog and wooden characters are gone. The screenplay is charming and witty and without any Jar Jar Binks type antics. While the plot relies on what can only be described as a Death-Star-sized McGuffin in a space opera such as this that's exactly how it should be. Abrams also isn't going to pull any punches. He's got this franchise in his hands and it's very clear from this movie that he's going to do whatever he wants with it. Thankfully what he wants to do is make you love it again.  That is probably most evident in the fact that actual star wars occur in this Star Wars. The action is superb and creates that sense of wonder you felt watching the original trilogy's outerspace dog fights. It makes you think back to the awe you felt watching the final attack on the Death Star in A New Hope. Part of that might be the fact that much of the direction steals directly from that film, but if you're going to "pay homage" might as well go all out. It's also ironic that it's the old school special effects (actual droids, no CGI when not needed) that make the film look even better. This franchise got its legs thanks to its advanced real-world special effects, and it's finding them again by going back to them. All this said, The Force Awakens is definitely only the beginning of something, and it can feel like that. There is a lot of necessary exposition that takes place to catch folks up. Abrams does his best to make you miss it, but it starts to stand out by the end. The film is also carrying the duty of establishing a new universe after Disney wiped the entire expanded universe from canon. They're doing a lot in this one film and it can make the movie feel a little heavy handed. Then again subtlety was never the franchise's strong point. This is the beginning of something, however. It's a farewell to the old guard and a welcome to the new. As such it's hard to begrudge the film its plethora of callbacks, repeated plot line and heavy exposition. These things are necessary to pull off what is needed in order to make new Star Wars movies that can stand on their own and don't alienate the fans, who already got burned once. This is a movie that honors what came, but leads into what is to come. Hopefully, when Episode VIII rolls around it can truly be its own thing.
Star Wars photo
This is the Star Wars you're looking for
Sixteen years ago Star Wars returned, but it wasn't the return we were all hoping for. It was the return George Lucas wanted, which turned out to be not so good. Fans had constructed decades worth of universe and build up in ...

Non-Review: The World of Kanako

Dec 04 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
The World of KanakoDirector: Tetsuya NakashimaRelease Date: December 4th, 2015Country: Japan  The first time someone got raped in The World of Kanako, I knew I wasn't going to like the movie. I've written about rape too many goddamn times, and I'm not going to go into another tirade on the subject. I knew when the first rape happened (one committed by the protagonist, no less) that this was not a movie I was going to like. But I kept watching. The second time, the film lost me. I didn't "forgive" the first one, but there's something kind of magnetic about Kanako. I wanted to forgive it because of that magnetism. But the second rape is more horrific than the first, both visually and contextually. It's also one that drives the rest of the narrative forward. In that sense, it's "important" in a way the first rape is not. On some level that makes it "okay." But on every other level? Nope. The third time, that dislike turned to hate. I had been waffling on whether or not I "hated" the film for a while leading up to that moment. I was thinking I probably did, but I didn't feel the passion. Some part of me really wanted to like the film, for reasons I don't fully understand. But the third rape clinched it. The passion was ignited. "Fuck this movie," I thought. But I kept watching. So I could write this review. Or, I guess this non-review. Because there's no score at the end. Only regrets.  I spent a lot of The World of Kanako thinking about other movies and my reactions to those movies. I also thought about other peoples' reactions to those movies. I thought about Lesson of the Evil, a film which Fangoria's Michael Gingold found morally abhorrent. He hated it. I kinda liked it. I understood where he was coming from, though. The content is such that it's an easy movie to hate (in America especially (and now especially especially)). But there was something about Takashi Miike's style that just won me over. I didn't like the fact that I kinda liked a movie about massacring school children, but I couldn't deny just how well-crafted the film was. My technical appreciation overrode my conceptual disgust. The World of Kanako is also very well made. It's fascinating, structurally. I think I would need to watch it at least seven times to truly understand what I saw, because the jumping timelines and differing viewpoints and legitimately schizophrenic protagonist all serve to make a film that is a mindfuck at best, possibly completely opaque. It's pretty, and though the editing is exhausting, I can't deny its style. There's a flair to the whole production that I wanted to love, but here the content . It wasn't just the rape, either, though that certainly factored into it heavily. The characters across the board are terrible, and though that's kinda the point, it doesn't mean I have to like it. I don't have to bring myself down to the film's level to judge it. I can sit on my high horse and simply toss it aside. I thought about Hard Romanticker, a film I also hated. I opened that review by comparing it to a much older film called The Cruel Story of Youth . The final line of the intro to that review: "I hated The Cruel Story of Youth." (I guess things haven't changed much in the past three and a half years.) But the reason I thought about Hard Romanticker wasn't because I hated it; it was because other people really liked it. I couldn't understand why. I still can't. I think it's an objectively bad movie about bad characters doing bad things. It's irredeemable. But people liked it. Maybe they were drawn to its irredeemability. I don't know. Likewise, there will be people who like The World of Kanako. Maybe they'll be drawn into it the way I was with Lesson of the Evil. Maybe they're the same people who like Hard Romanticker. I don't know. I guess I can see the allure, but I can't see how they aren't repulsed. I thought about a lot of movies for a lot of reasons, most of them Japanese. This film is very Japanese, for better and for worse. Oftentimes I like that. Sometimes I love it. And sometimes I hate it. Sometimes the cultural divide is too big, and I can't even be bothered to try to bridge it. This is one of those times. I could go on... but I don't see the point. The things it does well (and it does do some things well) don't matter. It's almost like The World of Kanako wants to be hated. Mission accomplished.
The World of Kanako photo
Cool story, bro.
I haven't hated a movie in a very long time. It's happened (oh it has happened), but it takes a certain special something to bring me over from annoyance or general dislike into sheer, visceral hatred.  The World of Kanako has that special something. It has it in spades. It is a film that cannot really be considered "bad." But it can absolutely be considered The Worst.

Review: Creed

Nov 29 // Nick Valdez
[embed]220168:42717:0[/embed] CreedDirector: Ryan CooglerRated: PG-13Release Date: November 25th, 2015 Rocky started out as a humble film where the titular character was in search of his prime. Themes of resurrection, Jesus imagery, and bouts between mythical legends blew the series into the huge proportions its known by today. But just like how the sixth film, Rocky Balboa, saw to end the series, Creed chooses to bring it back down to Earth. Adonis (Michael B. Jordan) is Apollo's illegitimate son and after years of self-taught boxing and fighting underground in Mexico, he's ready to take on the sport full time in order to break out of the shadow of his famous father. After heading to Philadelphia, he convinces his father's old rival and friend, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), to train him through some of the biggest fights of his life.  Creed manages to accomplish something I've never seen before. It's only something a series seven films in can do, really. Although it can technically be the start of a whole new set of films, it feels like an appropriate epilogue to Balboa's saga. Stallone may not have written this film, but lots of the film's lines and themes fit right in with the other six films. Everything from the little story touches (Balboa knows every person in town, and people still call him "Champ"), to Balboa's dialogue sounding exactly like how he should (he's a big dumb lug, but he's got heart), and to little homages folks can miss completely. It's a film informed by history so fans of the series will absolutely love all the shout outs, but newer viewers won't feel lost without that knowledge. The homage is all in the background (other than two scenes, and only one of those is a major setpiece); stuff you'd pick up if you're paying attention. Like its major theme of trying to break out and create its own legacy, Creed isn't weighed down by the past but is made that much better for acknowledging it a little.  Creed is also a technical marvel. It's running time (two hours and 14 minutes) gave me pause at first because while the Rocky saga was always great, it tended to run long. And while Creed does indeed have some scenes that could be skimmed down, it's edited kind of perfectly. The story has the time it needs to breathe, and it allows the audience to get used to this new perspective of this old world. We have enough story bits to move the film forward, but there's still plenty time to develop the characters. The story isn't perfect as there are a few threads that get lost with an entire secondary group of characters that get shoved aside for an odd feeling title match we're not really invested in (so Wood Harris is ultimately wasted as a result but I don't want to talk about it too much because it'll spoil the film), Phylicia Rashad isn't really needed, the love interest seems tacked on (but Tessa Thompson is great), and unfortunately we don't get to the root of why Adonis wants to be a boxer other than the fact that his father once was. But it's hard to mind because everything works so well. Especially watching the fights unfold. The film strives for a realistic take on boxing. Unlike the grandiose nature the sport takes in the later films of the Rocky saga, director Ryan Coogler brings the sport back down to its gritty appeal. Fights are visceral, we're reminded on a few occasions of the damage boxing can do as Apollo's death in the ring comes up a few times (and feels real each time), and watching Stallone as a older, weaker Balboa who's been ravaged by the sport is very compelling. And the matches themselves are some of the most engrossing fights I've ever seen in boxing films. One of the weaker aspects of the Rocky saga has always been the boxing matches themselves. That's why there was always care to develop the personalities of the fighters themselves because we're more likely to get invested in an admittedly goofy fight regardless. But in Creed it's the other way around. While there's some attention to fighter detail, it's more about what happens in the ring. And it's definitely something I'd like to see more of should there be more films (of which I'd gladly see). It's a cool way to modernize the typically old fashioned saga for sure. Adonis' first official match is a huge stand out, and I want to talk about how marvelous it is here but I want you to experience it for yourself. It's quite a sight.  Now for the part I've wanted to talk about the most. As mentioned before, Sylvester Stallone may not have written the film this time around, but it definitely feels like it. As the new school props up the legends of old, every scene with Stallone is absolutely enthralling. Stallone wears Balboa's iconic image like a glove, and it's like the saga never ended. It's kind of amazing how he nails each bit of dialogue, humor, and physicality. His arc in the film is fantastic, and it's quite emotional given our history with the character. If you've watched any of the films in the past, expect to cry a little. It's a staunch reminder of the kind of actor Stallone can be in case you've forgotten after watching him in films like The Expendables. Creed subdues his image a bit, but as much as the film tries, it doesn't dim Balboa completely. Michael B. Jordan turns in quite a performance here, adding the necessary believable edge and charisma, but he's pretty much outclassed by Stallone in their scenes together. It's to be expected since Stallone has many years of the role under his belt, but it doesn't even matter too much since this is a bridge film that serves to pass the torch along. So even this slight negative feels like another positive.  My only major concern is whether or not someone unfamiliar with the Rocky series will be able to enjoy Creed to its full potential. Since I'm far removed from that position, I can only offer a few key points: Creed is an entertaining boxing film in its own right, so you're likely to get invested without knowing the history, there are a few iconic Rocky images that float around in the pop culture space and they're paid homage to here so you'll at least recognize those, and it's just a fantastic film all around. Creed isn't a perfect film, but it's as close to perfect as you can get.  Folks, let me let you in on some behind the scenes stuff for a bit. The first thing I've ever written for this site was, in fact, a post about Rocky's training montage.  I started writing community posts here and there before being brought on to the staff full time, eventually working my way up to the guy who gets to review stuff every now and then. So three years later, it's surreal to take on Creed for my 100th review. Creed hit me hard, folks. I've been writing, re-writing, and completely erased a draft to write it all over again just to get it right. It's a film I liked so much that it was hard to put in words. It's the best film I've seen all year, and there's a good chance nothing will top it for some time. Whether there are more or whether this is the last Rocky universe thing I'll ever see, I'm perfectly happy.  Hollywood, if you want to reboot everything, give every old property sequels, spin-off into cinematic universes, take note of Ryan Googler's Creed. This is how you do it. 
Creed Review photo
Gonna fly now, gonna fly forever
Twenty years ago, my father had a bout with lymphoma. In the following years of recovery, I searched for any means to get closer to him. One of the first things we did together was watch a bunch of his favorite films. Godzill...

Review: The Night Before

Nov 26 // Nick Valdez
[embed]220167:42716:0[/embed] The Night BeforeDirector: Johnathan LevineRated: RRelease Date: November 20th, 2015 When Ethan's (Joseph Godon-Levitt) parents pass away, his friends Isaac (Seth Rogen) and Chris Roberts (Anthony Mackie) decide to start a new holiday tradition where they combine all of their usual traditions and party. 14 years later, that tradition is coming to an end as Isaac's becoming a father and Chris is now too famous an athlete to hang out. As their lives drift apart and Ethan's seems to be going nowhere, he clings to the last hope for their tradition: The Nutcracker Ball, a secret super party which the three have been trying to go to for years. As they look for the party, drug laced Christmas shenanigans ensue.  Night Before is incredibly nostalgic. From the outset you'll notice plenty of shout outs to films of Christmas past (like Home Alone and It's a Wonderful Life), but your enjoyment of these references and gags only really work if you remember them well enough. These gags don't have much at face value, but utilize that nostalgic work around to get a pleasant chuckle every now and then. Thankfully the film doesn't do this too much, but the gags that don't work because of this stick out even more so when the original jokes land much better. These little references feel too much like an afterthought, so I'm just left trying to figure why'd they'd even include these in the first place. It brings the film down a notch since this noticeable roughness often comes paired with bouts of awkward silence rather than laughs.  We could debate taste in humor all day, but the main core of the film is decidedly within its three main characters. Each one having their own little adventure, with only two getting true resolution, Ethan, Isaac, and Chris are crafted well. Thanks to the writing, and how comfortable the trio of actors is with one another, these guys feel lived in. Each character has a strong emotional, and most importantly human, center that helps anchor the film when it goes off the rails. Unfortunately, there are points when they get a bit cartoonish (especially during most of Isaac's drug binge or Chris' encounter with a strange thief) and the story goes through these weird non-sequitors which only serve to diminish the film's actual plot. It just seems weird to, at one point, focus on cocaine shenanigans and then try and remind us there's a Christmas story being told. Rogen and Goldberg's films do this all the time, but I guess there's just a more noticeable juxtaposition when the main story is all about holiday niceties.  Johnathan Levine, who's directed Rogen and Gordon-Levitt before in 50/50, captures the spirit of the holiday film quite well. The little details sprinkled throughout the film like the trio's holiday sweaters, the entrance to the Nutcracker Ball feeling appropriately magical, or even not including any holiday music to keep it all inclusive, help to make it timeless, but there are some odd cameos that really date the film and will set it back. And I know the trio have to separate to serve the story, but I wish we were able to enjoy Rogen, Gordon-Levitt, and Mackie in the same room more. Each of their scenes together is an absolute highlight as they bounce jokes off one another and generally charm up the place. Even some of the film's occasional wonky dialogue comes across natural for them. It's pretty neat to see in action. I hope they find themselves all together in another project someday. Also, if they could somehow get another appearance from the actor that plays Mr. Green, I'd be there day one.  In the end, there's not really much else to say about The Night Before. I had a good time watching, even if there were a couple of times I found myself scratching my head over their comedic choices. If you've seen Rogen and Goldberg's films in the past, you already know what to expect and have decided whether or not to see this already. The addition of Anthony Mackie and Joseph Gordon-Levitt to the mix helps take the film to a more emotional place than usual, but you're constantly reminded that this is another film in a long line of others like it. It's like that one Christmas where you got a cool Nintendo 64, and you're older cousin keeps telling you he got one first. You're going to have a good time, but it's a little less fun than it should be. 
Night Before Review photo
A partridge in a burning tree
When Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg produce a film, you pretty much know what you're going to get. As the duo have made their way through the romantic comedy, high school buddy film, stoner comedy, old Hollywood existential, su...

Review: The 33

Nov 13 // Matthew Razak
[embed]220135:42699:0[/embed] The 33Director: Patricia RiggenRated: PG-13Release Date: November 13, 2015 What is this story we're talking about? Back in 2010 33 Chilean miners got trapped when a very large chunk of rock collapsed the mine they were working in. Against all odds, and while the entire world watched, the 33 were eventually rescued. This is ostensibly their story of survival, but it's also the story of how they were rescued. It is a plot so full of happiness, wonder and cliche that if it weren't for the fact that it actually happened you'd be reading a review about how the film was too unbelievable.  To be sure The 33 probably plays it a little loose with events and characters. While the miners themselves, led by Mario Sepúlveda (Antonio Banderas) and Don Lucho (Lou Diamond Phillips), are treated pretty well their above ground counterparts get a lot of fluffing. Laurence Golborne (Rodrigo Santoro), Chile's minister of mining, gets a very flattering coat of paint with the casting of a ridiculously good looking actor and the insertion of hints of romance with one of the miner's sisters. Luckily the plot line never bores out, but it speaks to just how rote the film can be. The movie hits every survival plot point it can with the emotional gusto you expect, but nothing actually special. This is especially true in the latter half of the film. While the miners are struggling to survive and the rescuers are desperately drilling down to them the film is actually surprisingly tense. Riggen does a fantastic job of developing the 33 as people and a group. The stress of being trapped in the mine is reflected and paralleled with the desperate attempts to rescue the miners. A particularly good scene brings the miners into the realm of fantasy as they eat their last supper around a long wooden table. The heavy hints of what faith means to these men reflected in the visuals of the scene. Riggen may get a bit heavy handed with her visual metaphors for faith, but she plays them well. Unfortunately the moment the drill pierces the cave it all seems to get lost. The screenplay jumps from subtle character study, to obvious social commentary as the miners become international sensations and a miniature revolution starts to occur. The moment the focus is taken off the minors and put onto the rescue the film jumps into cliche and begins to hamper everything that was built in the first half. Riggens visuals fall away as the screenplay struggles to keep the miners relevant for the months they must wait for rescue. Once survival is not longer the driving factor it seems the movie doesn't know what to do with them. It definitely grinds the performances to a halt as well. Banderas is powerful as Mario in the first half of the movie, lacing a relentless force into his performance while Phillips plays behind him, worn and afraid. I was seriously leaning towards Oscar thoughts as I watched Banderas rally the miners in the key survival speech, but as his character devolves into the film's representation for the corruption of the outside world (before, of course, redeeming himself quickly) his performance suffers. We lose the connection to the miners as the plot opens up and in turn lose the connection to the performances. What's most tragic is that The 33 never confronts anything. At the end of the film text points out that the mining company was never punished and the miners never got an retribution from them. However, the movie never really addresses this situation it's so focused on being triumphant for its last half. It hits its dramatic points just fine, but never pushes to the next level where were allowed to talk about what happened. This movie should never need to be made, but instead of looking into that fact when it has the chance it instead revels in its glorious rescue. It's a great rescue story for sure, but The 33 could have been more. 
The 33 Review photo
How do you say 'meh' in Spanish?
You could mess up the story of The 33 I suppose. It would be hard, but not impossible. You could get over melodramatic, but you'd have to try hard because the story its based on is damn melodramatic. You could screw up t...

Review: The Peanuts Movie

Nov 06 // Nick Valdez
[embed]220109:42688:0[/embed] The Peanuts Movie Director: Steve MartinoRated: GRelease Date: November 6th, 2015 The Peanuts Movie is all about Charlie Brown (Noah Schnapp), an awkward kid with a debilitating self-esteem issue thanks to years and years of being teased by the other neighborhood kids. Just as he was wishing for a blank slate, a mysterious new, red-haired girl moves into town. After falling hard for her, Charlie's got to muster up the courage and do some crazy things in order to impress her and get her to notice him. While he's doin all of that, his dog Snoopy (thanks to Bill Melendez's archived voice work) finds a typewriter and begins writing about the WWI Flying Ace and his rivalry with the infamous Red Baron.  First things first, Peanuts is absolutely stunning. I honestly have no idea how Blue Sky Studios managed to pull this off. Just like the film's content, Peanuts' visuals are both heartily nostalgic (thanks to a few 2D flourishes like little hearts and backgrounds every now and then) and groundbreaking in its effort. Characters move as smoothly as they would in 2D while avoiding CG's blurring motions thanks to an adept use of choppy movement. I guess the closest thing I can compare it to is Blue Sky's mascot Scrat (from the Ice Age series). Just as his movement is broken, yet fluid so it captures the essence of old Looney Tunes shorts, Peanuts' animation captures the essence of the TV specials. And then there are all the little details therein like Snoopy's fur, the whiskers in Charlie's lone curl of hair, and the Flying Ace sequences look pretty good in 3D. But once you get beyond how great it looks, you'll soon realize that it may be too comfortable taking yet another trip down memory lane.  Because it's both a reinvention and a reintroduction to the Peanuts series, the film is almost required to make the necessary homages to its classic jokes and settings. Every classic Peanuts joke is here, quite literally, and you'll be hard pressed to find them funny again in this new setting. These jokes have already been made available through the specials replayed through the holidays each year, so it's really a matter of whether or not you'll appreciate them again through this new filter. It's a celebration unfortunately caught in the past, and while these jokes are definitely delightful and may mean more to new audiences, it's just a shame that this new film didn't take the chance to create new memories for Charlie Brown. It's even more glaring when the newer bits work very well. There's this scene where Charlie is getting "Psychiatric Help" from Lucy that's absolutely fabulous in how dark the writing duo of Bryan and Craig Schulz take it. At one point, she shoves a mirror in his face and asks Charlie what he sees, and all he can say in response is "A loser." While it sounds wonky on paper, it's a sequence that actually utilizes our knowledge of the characters in the past rather than be hindered by it.  In fact, that's one of the boldest choices The Peanuts Movie makes. While the humor and most of the content is stuck in the past (thus making sequences featuring new pop music from Meghan Trainor feel even more out of place), Charlie Brown has actually become a mix of his many identities. The film only works because the writing, actor Noah Schnapp, and visuals have mastered this newest iteration of Charlie Brown. He's a mix of many of his past incarnations: The outright loser from Schulz's original comic strips. the awkward kid from the holiday specials, and the more positive Charlie from later direct to video specials. Yet with all of those influences, he's still got his own new layer in the film. They've added this crippling self-doubt that's so current, it clashes with the rest of the film's nostalgic tone. As the kids exist in a world with rotary phones, Charlie's pondering existential crises in love.  While the humor can be a bit clunky, and Charlie Brown is fantastic, the film does take some getting used to. Since it is so stuck in the past, it's taking on a format we haven't seen in quite a while. Broken into vignettes fueling a central arc, each major sequence in Peanuts feels like it could be a stand-alone special of its own. Each major scene has a beginning middle and end, so it doesn't really flow like a traditional film, per se. It's an odd pacing that, while not entirely bad, does detract from the enjoyment overall. Going in you've got to realize that you're taking the good with the bad, but the "bad" isn't the worst thing in the world. The Peanuts Movie's biggest flaw is that it's too celebratory and nostalgic, but that's also such a non-problem to have.  I certainly have enjoyed myself, but I also don't feel compelled to watch this over and over again like every other Peanuts thing I've revisited in the past. It's a delightful and breezy film, but I'm not sure if everyone will have the same reaction to it that I did. It's fun to walk down memory lane every once in a while, but you can't expect everyone to stick around.
Peanuts Review photo
Good grief?
Thanks to my mom, I've been following Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang for as long as I can remember. Like Charlie, I too am a sad sack who's life the universe sees fit to ruin at all cost. So when I first heard 20th Centur...

Review: Spectre

Nov 06 // Matthew Razak
[embed]220108:42687:0[/embed] SpectreDirector: Sam MendesRated: PG-13Release Date: November 6, 2015  Spectre is relentlessly old school Bond for better or for worse. It harkens back to the tongue-in-cheek playfulness of Moore, the swagger of Connery and even a bit of the romance of Lazenby. This is all pretty interesting since the Craig era of Bond has been marked pointedly by a intentional move away from such things as site gags and gadgets. The return to this style of Bond is both jarring and reassuring, but what can easily be said is this is Craig's most Bond film, complying with all the stereotypes, tropes and action that one came to expect from Bond pre-Craig. It is repeatedly, and possibly a little overbearingly, wistful about Bond's past. Almost every scene could be considered a throwback or nod to older Bond films. Then again when you've got more than 50 years of cinematic history under your belt it's hard to avoid not paying homage, which is the nice way of saying copying. The plot is definitely a repeat. In fact, much like Moonraker after The Spy Who Loved Me, Spectre is the same general idea as Skyfall, but bigger and more ridiculous. We open with Bond pursuing some extra curricular assassination in Mexico City. Turns out he's hot on the trail of an evil organization, eventually revealed to be Spectre, who Bond must destroy in order to save the world from domination. Spectre is basically Quantum from the first two films, but now they're calling it Spectre because old Bond is back (and legal reasons). Much like Skyfall the villain has a personal connection with Bond, is obsessed with collecting information for power and is looking to overthrow MI6. Bond proceeds to jump from one action sequences in a stunning locale to another as the movie attempts to unfold a lackluster mystery and develop an even more confusing relationship between Bond and Mr. White's (remember him) daughter Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux). If you're one for logic, pacing and avoiding plot holes this Bond is not for you.  However, if you're one for fast cars, gadgets, one-liners, prolific actions sequences and a general sense of fun then strap in. This film is all style and no substance, but, man, does it have style. This is easily the most charming Craig's Bond has been, which isn't too difficult since the previous three films focused more on the man than the myth. The screenplay, full of the kind of one-liners and site gags that made Bond Bond, might fall through in many ways, but it gives Craig a chance to have a lot of fun. Thanks to the comments he's made after shooting the film it's hard to say if he actually enjoyed the process, but there are moments here that rival Connery in their flippant bravado including what might be the sexiest delivery of the line, "Bond, James Bond," ever spoken. He an Seydoux have fantastic chemistry on screen, and if they're taking the character the direction it seems they are then that's going to be incredibly important. The action is also easily Craig's best. Casino Royale barely had any as it was far more a character study, Quantum's was shoddily directed and Skyfall featured some amazing set pieces, but nothing that compares to the brutal fights and overblown action of Spectre. The opening sequence is a stunning helicopter battle that's an airborne take on the historic train fight from From Russia With Love. It opens the film with a bang, that is unfortunately followed by Sam Smith's disappointment of a song and an opening credits sequence that involves some tentacle porn and will illicit giggles. Get through that, however, and you're slam back into the action, which doesn't let up until the very end of the film's more than two-and-half hour running time. We're treated to what is easily some of the franchise's best action. Sam Mendes's direction is once again stunningly gorgeous and despite the departure of cinematographer Richard Deakins the movie is still one of Bond's most striking. Bond has never looked sharper, with Craig going through more outfit changes than a female Oscar host and Mendes doing everything in his power to make him look awesome. A perfectly tailored white dinner jacket (this is the latter) in a train ripped from the 50s lit like it's Casablanca pulls an entire scene together and makes you happy they went so old school this time around.  Unfortunately, when style isn't a factor things start to fall apart. This is especially true for the villains of the film who are universally wasted. Christoph Waltz's Hans Oberhauser spends the first half of the film in the shadows only to be revealed as a limp, uninteresting character who can barely muster up a convincing monomaniacal monologue. How can you so misuse Waltz as a Bond villain? It seems almost criminal in and of itself, and yet the character is flat and hampered with a plot line that doesn't just make his character worse, but the entire movie. The sad part is this specific piece of the story is almost entirely unnecessary, and seems to have been stuck into the movie simply to attempt to put some of Craig's Bond's "emotion" into the story. It doesn't work, and in turn detracts from where the true emotional focus should be between Bond, Swann and M -- the true character conflict of the film that gets totally lost in the movie's desperate attempts to offer up twists. Even the movie's henchman, another staple returning in true form for the first time in a Craig film, suffers from a lack of attention. Hinx (Dave Bautista) bursts on the scene showing off his metal thumbnails, giving off echoes of Jaws, and then is relegated to a large thug for the rest of the movie. It's a completely illogical choice, especially with such a charming guy as Bautista. Imagine if Oddjob simply threw his hat once in Goldfinger and the decided not to use it again. Hinx does just this and spends the rest of the film running after Bond in cars. Now, he is involved in a fantastic train fight, but he really could have been replaced by any brute. It's just another way Spectre wastes its potential to be a truly great Bond film. SPOILERS IN THE NEXT PARAGRAPHS I hate to write about spoilers for a movie most people haven't seen, but it plays such a large role in this movie and fails so badly that I must bring it up. You've probably guessed it by now anyway: Christoph Waltz plays Blofeld. The film treats this as if we're all supposed to be surprised, but they gave it away by naming the movie Spectre and so when the foot drops it lands with a dull thud. They may have known this as they attempt to pile on other plot twists from here on out to make up for it, but there are about a million different ways this could have played out better, especially if Waltz had decided to bring any life to his character. This all concludes in an ending that is flat and disconnected. In a film filled with prolific action sequences the movie ends with nothing. Instead of an epic take-down of the villain we're given a tepid gun shot that culminates more than two ours of action with no emotional punch. This is followed by a conclusion that feels confusing and out of character for Bond. That may be because the next film is going to bring back the Lea Sedoux character. If this is so it could make the ending work, but as it stands on its own it leaves an odd taste in one's mouth.  END SPOILERS It's also odd that in a film that is clearly obsessed with bringing Bond back to his roots that they ignore one of the most unique aspects of the franchise: it's almost complete disregard for continuity. Instead a ham-fisted attempt is made to connect Bond's last three adventures to this one. Much like Obenhauser's plot points it is generally not needed and only serves to convolute the story. The problem is this clearly wasn't intended from the start. Yes, Quantum may have been a big, evil organization that the filmmakers originally intended to develop, but after they ditched it in Skyfall their plot line fell apart. Now we get a forced conclusion to the story that tries to tie up loose ends as if Bond wasn't a film franchise that was built on completely ignoring whatever happened in the previous films. How many Bond girls have completely disappeared? How many villains are never mentioned again? Why force continuity on a movie that doesn't need it? The question becomes what do you want from your Bond film? If the hard reset we received when Craig took over the mantle was up your alley then this step back in time is going to seriously disappoint. If you've missed the days of ejection seats, gadget-filled cars and perfectly timed quips then Spectre is the Bond you've been waiting for. It's a return to form for Bond, but that form was never for everybody. In the pantheon of Bond films Spectre is definitely on the middle-high end, but in Craig's tenure it is an outlier filled with things that will either make you love it or hate it. The big problem is if you don't love the things its brought back then it's flaws are too great to get over. It's ramshackle plot and poor villains make it incredibly difficult to enjoy if you don't enjoy Bond. When I wrote my review of Casino Royale many years ago I noted that Bond's gun barrel opening had been changed, it was then shoved to the end of Quantum of Solace and again to the end of Skyfall. I noted that this was all well and good since these films were about Bond becoming Bond, but that eventually the gun barrel would have to return to the beginning of the film once the character had returned to has traditional ways. In Spectre the barrel is back at the beginning and Bond is definitely back to his old ways. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is entirely up to you. I think it's a great thing, but it could have been done in a better movie. 
Spectre Review photo
Bond is back, but is that good?
When Skyfall landed James Bond rose to a whole new level. We were treated to a Bond film that both embraced the new, hard edge of Daniel Craig's Bond, but paid homage to Bond's past as well. Unlike the dreadfully dour Qu...

Review: Attack on Titan

Oct 29 // Nick Valdez
[embed]220069:42671:0[/embed] Attack on Titan: Parts 1 & 2Director: Shinji HiguchiRated: NRRelease Date: October 20, 22, and 27th, 2015 (limited) Attack on Titan (split into two 90 minute parts released a few months from one another) is the story of a small walled off city that's constantly being attacked by giant, grotesque man eating monsters known as the Titans. After a surprise attack leaves their city devastated, two boys, named Eren (Hamura Miura) and Armin (Kanata Hongo), join the military in order to fight them. Also, their friend Mikasa (Kiko Mizuhara), who was once thought to be eaten before being saved by super soldier Shikishima (Hiroki Hasegawa), is also there and very angsty. Then follows are soldier on titan fights, titan on titan fights, and lots of poorly conceived military conspiracy intrigue. I don't have a lot of experience with the original comics, but that's okay since the two films are their own entity and venture into different paths than the stories fans may be familiar with. The stories of the films have to end, after all, and who knows when the comics will do the same.  The first thing you'll notice about Attack on Titan is how great it all looks. Part 1 opens spectacularly as the initial titan attack is well storyboarded and the action flows well from scene to scene. It gives the titans an appropriate horrific weight despite how ridiculous some of them look. Rather than choose to go CG (the terrible green screen actions scenes later in the films notwithstanding), the titans are all people in body skin suits akin to Toho's Godzilla or a very gloomy episode of the Power Rangers. You'd figure it was a low budget shortcut, but it works. Thanks to using actual actors, we're given a chance to sink in to the titans' emotions rather than be distracted by the film's spotty CG. It's just that nothing in these films ever looks as good as the opening scene again.  I'd be willing to forgive the wonky effects had the rest of the film worked, but sadly that's also a problem. I'm not sure what's to blame here. Whether the two films are victims of adaptation, translation, or even the property's fandom, but nothing in the two films makes any sense. Although the film chooses to create its own narrative, it still bases some of the films' bigger scenes on scenes from the comics. But the problem with cherry picking key scenes in order to please its fans, is that without adapting the rest of the story those scenes won't make sense. It's also thanks to the films' short runtimes that everything moves at too brisk a pace to keep up with or even care about in the slightest. Like Eren, for instance. First he's got this plot about wanting to escape from the walls, to suddenly pulling an Ultraman and becoming a giant himself, to suddenly hatching a plot to blow up the walls with a discarded H-bomb. And within all of that, he's still got Mikasa's random angst to deal with. No character is developed well enough, and there're so many that none of them have any chance to leave a lasting impression.  The biggest flaw with either of these films was I couldn't really separate the two from one another. I initially wanted to review each part much akin to Hollywood films like The Hunger Games or Harry Potter, but neither part was substantial enough to warrant its own discussion. It only seemed fair to the film to just take it all in as one entity since the majority of the plot and backstory waits in part two, while the visual budget was clearly all exhausted back in part one. I'm not sure how these films were shot, but it's clear that by the end of part two, they had pretty much used all the money at their disposal. The film's big finale looked absolutely ridiculous. And since there isn't any real narrative reason to stay invested, it's all just a wash. At least the acting was good. I didn't personally note any bad performances, and even if an actor was chewing the scenery, they all tried their best. Bringing it back around to my Titanic metaphor earlier, it's like the cast was the string quartet composing a soundtrack for their imminent doom.  But at the end of the day, I understand the film isn't for me. But it really isn't for fans of the Attack on Titan series either. In fact, it may even be more of a detriment to the fandom itself. It's a hollow adaptation that only chooses particular moments from the story in order to manipulate the fans. They want the fans to go out and see the film, talk about seeing their favorite anime/comic scene in live action and hope those same fans ignore everything else.  A fan's worst nightmare is to see their favorite stories and characters wrung through an unrecognizable filter, and that's exactly what Attack on Titan is. I don't think that's the kind of horror the film wanted to embody. 
Attack on Titan Review photo
Sinking ship
Much like how you'll see films based on comics like Marvel's Avengers or DC's Dark Knight Trilogy, manga comics get a huge following back in Japan they don't get here domestically. One of the biggest releases from the last fe...

Review: Knock Knock

Oct 23 // Nick Valdez
[embed]220064:42670:0[/embed] Knock KnockDirectors: Eli RothRated: RRelease Date: October 9th, 2015 (in theaters and VOD) Knock Knock stars Keanu Reeves as Evan Webber, a family man with a loving wife and two kids. When his family goes away for the weekend, two girls Genesis (Lorenza Izzo) and Bel (Ana de Armas) suddenly show up in the middle of the night asking for help. After seducing Evan, he ends up sleeping with them. But after he wakes up the next day, Evan realizes the two girls have some sinister motives. And that's pretty much it. The best thrillers can mine even the thinnest premises for good character work or story material, but that all hinges on whether or not the film has a strong written frame to build on. Unfortunately for all of us, Knock Knock is basically written like a film student's first draft hastily put together two hours before the assignment was due.  Don't get me wrong, I can accept bad dialogue in a horror/thriller because it's usually in service of a greater goal. Maybe the film's intentionally bad or its wackier elements help bring levity to the potentially gruesome nature of the genre, but there isn't just bad dialogue here. The entire package is crafted terribly. From how long it takes to actually get the story moving as the girls don't show up until a third into the film (thus making the terribly written and acted family scenes feel much longer and awkward), to the fact that Evan literally has to sleep with the girls to get to the core of the drama, to how many times it resorts to "crazy bitch!" whenever characters are under duress, to the girls' nonsensical motivations (half revenge, half complete banality), to Evan being a former DJ for some reason, and finally for weirdly off putting lines like "Bitch, you're barking up the wrong f**king tree! I'm from Oakland, hoe! I know two ghetto ass hoes when I see them!" Yeah, that's definitely a thing someone says in the movie. That line somehow made it through numerous edits, drafts, and cuts into the final product. I bet whoever wrote this line did one of those fist pumps to celebrate how clever he was.  I could write about how terribly everything was put together all day, but to get to the core of my issues with Knock Knock I need to do something I've never done in one of my reviews before. I have to outright spoil one of the key plot points of the film because it's something I desperately want to tell you about. I'm sorry if you were still somehow interested in the film after reading thus far, but I promise I'll keep the spoilers limited to this chunk of the review. Okay, so you know why the girls are invading houses and having sex with men in order to humiliate them and ruin their lives? Because men are monsters. There's a hint at some child abuse (which also compounds yet another horribly conceived "idea" on top of this garbage heap), but we're just supposed to believe that these two girls are going around messing with dudes as some kind of misappropriation of the "femme fatale" concept. Sex as a weapon can be fine in media, but if the justification for its use is just so that same character can "trap" a man, it's completely backwards thinking and singlehandedly sets back all of the good work women have done in media I would've accepted these extremely thin motivations had there been actual depth with the two girls, but their actions far exceed the range of their revenge. And Knock Knock goes out of its way multiple times to remove any sense of sympathy or even desire to exist from the characters entirely.  When Evan threatens to call the police, the two girls threaten to send him to prison with cries of not just rape, but statutory rape. Thus adding yet another mysogynistic reason this film is really just for older dudes unhappy with their marriages. In fact, Knock Knock's death knell is a speech Reeves gives that somehow sets his own career back a few years. You could hear his soul dying a little bit when he says, I kid you not, "You f**ked me! You came to me! You wanted it, you came on to me!...It was free pizza! Free f**king pizza! What was I supposed to do?!?"  Sure Knock Knock has one or two moments where all of its badness coalesces into a surprisingly humorous bit, as every film gets one regardless of how bad it truly is, but nothing is good enough to warrant wading through the rest of it. Knock Knock isn't just an embarrassment for all involved, but for the first time, Keanu Reeves looked like he was genuinely phoning it in. I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but I was almost enamored by how much Reeves was trying to distance himself from the character. He gets bad dialogue and weird movies all the time, but he usually can transcend the material thanks to his effort. And the saddest thing is this is coming after one of his biggest triumphs in the last few years, John Wick, which was also a film caught in this very situation. It was too a film full of cheesy dialogue and clunky writing work, but he made it something special.  Knock Knock is such a worthless heap of garbage, not even Keanu Reeves wanted to try to save it. If Keanu Reeves didn't deem this worthy, why should we? This review is more attention than this film deserves, and I can't wait until this fades from memory. 
Knock Knock Review photo
Who's there? Garbage
Keanu Reeves is a treasure. Thanks to his genuine love of the craft, I'm always willing to see whatever he decides to be a part of. No matter the project he always gives as much effort as possible, sometimes even elevating th...

Review: Jem and the Holograms

Oct 23 // Matthew Razak
[embed]220058:42666:0[/embed] Jem and the HologramsDirector: Jon M. ChuRated: PGRelease Date: October 23, 2015 What I want to believe is that Jem and the Holograms is really an incredibly smart meta film about our current culture and it's emotional immaturity caused by split second reactions on social media. I want to believe that so badly, but more likely it's just a incredibly sloppy screenplay and forced direction that takes what could have been a decent story and turns it into the worst mish-mash of story lines since the original Casino Royale (that film at least works as camp). We meet Jerrica (Aubrey Peeples), a painfully shy teenager, and her sisters: Kimber (Stefanie Scott), Shana (Aurora Perrineau) and Aja (Hayley Kiyoko). A musically talented group, they live with their mother (Molly Ringwald). When Jerrica records herself singing a song and Kimber uploads it to the Internet it goes viral overnight and big time record producer Erica Raymond (Julliette Lewis) steps in to sign Jerrica, now known as Jem, to a record deal. Of course becoming big and famous leads to terribly traumatic events over the next month (yes, only a month) and soon everything starts falling apart even though Jem is falling for the totally dreamy son of Erica, Rio (Ryan Guzman). Also, there's a toy robot that Jem's father made sending her on a secret quest. You know, because the plot wasn't random enough. At first glance one may think that the cliche plot and groan worthy moments -- such as the four girls and Rio kicking into a random sing along after committing a crime -- are intentional. The film makes heavy use of social media and maybe a commentary on the web's short attention span is why they've condensed the normal "band gets together/band falls apart" into only a month of time. Characters go from best friends to mortal enemies to apologizing to each other in the span of an hour. It is the most ludicrously paced and plotted film I've seen in a long while and I kept telling myself it had to be intentional; it had to be a social commentary of some sort. But it isn't because it never makes a point. Jem and her sisters never turn to the camera and admit they're just terrible people. The movie is just plain bad. The plot careens from one random occurrence to another attempting to show... something. Instead it just fulfills cliches. A bunch of privileged teenagers struggle with their inability to get along for a single month. One month! That's all it takes for Jem to fall apart at the hands of all the pressure she's feeling by being torn into two personas (Jem and Jerrica) and getting lots of money. It would be infuriating if it wasn't so laughable. Every time the movie even attempts to make an emotional connection between characters it feels feeble and pointless since Jem and her sister's emotions are about as stable as a table with uneven legs.  Maybe all that would have been OK for Jon M. Chu had directed the movie with any panache at all. Instead it feels like he's bored with it and just checking off every request from the studio for a movie that will appeal to teens. Instead of playing up the camp -- aside from a single (and fantastic) teaser at the end -- Chu takes his bi-polar characters far too seriously. More importantly, the man responsible for making dance movies fun with his stellar direction of dance numbers can't seem to direct his way through a single musical sequence in this film. The entire thing is sloppy and devoid of any tone. Chu could have at least put in a few scenes of the band working together or something to make it feel like times is passing, but instead he wastes the almost two hour (!) running time on repeating the same scene over and over. We get it. Jem and Jerrica are two different people. When a Saturday morning cartoon involving a woman literally projecting a different person on top of herself handles this metaphor better than you do then you've got serious problems. Throw in a strange plot line about Jem's father and the mystical robot Synergy, that was clearly just added to appeal to fans of the cartoon, and you've got a mess no director could piece together, but that Chu does a horrifically bad job of.  It's all too bad because somewhere in there is a movie that could have worked. The hints at camp are there during some of the more ridiculous parts, the musical numbers could have worked with a bit more effort, and with just a bit of ironing out and trimming down the film could have felt like something mattered. Chu even uses a neat trick by inter-cutting YouTube musician's music and videos into the movie as a sort of soundtrack. Unfortunately instead of being innovative it feels forced and tacky like the rest of the film. Eventually they even use YouTuber's videos talking about the influence of the Jem cartoon on them to make it appear they're talking about the life changing film Jem. Again, this all takes place over the matter of a month.  Jem and the Holograms is a mess. It's confusing and directionless and by trying to appeal to everyone appeals to no one. Somewhere, buried deep within this film, is a cult classic that cries to be let out right at the end, but was lost at some point between shoving in a robot mystery and forcing a creepy romance between a possibly underage teen and a college intern.   
Jem photo
Truly, truly outrageously terrible
I have memories of the 80s cartoon Jem and the Holograms. They aren't fond and they aren't bad, they just are. A movie based on the show didn't really get me excited in that way that most nostalgia does, but I could see how i...

Review: Crimson Peak

Oct 16 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]219445:42381:0[/embed] Crimson PeakDirector: Guillermo del ToroRelease Date: October 16, 2015Rating: R  Here is a brief synopsis of the movie I thought I was going to see: Blonde girl falls in love with Tom Hiddleston (and, I mean, who wouldn't?), who lives in a creepy haunted house with creepy ghosts. All kinds of strange things happen, and ultimately we find out that Tom Hiddleston and his creepy sister are actually dead/supposed to be dead but is being kept alive by this house and are confined by these ghosts or something. Terror ensues and probably bloodshed also. Based on the way the trailer is edited, all of this is crystal clear. Spoiler alert. Nope.  I got a few things right: blonde girl, Tom Hiddleston, creepy ghosts, bloodshed. So... the imagery. I was able to see those four things and think, "Yes. I recognize that." But the actual narrative? Not even close. And I tell you all of this because there's a fairly decent chance you are expecting the same thing. And even if you weren't expecting that, you were likely expecting a scary ghost story about scary ghosts. And once again you will be wrong. Because it's not a ghost story. It's a story with ghosts in it.  It's kinda funny, really, because something like ten minutes in, Crimson Peak tells you exactly what it's going to be. You see, Edith is a would-be novelist. She says that she wants to be the next Mary Shelley. She shows her manuscript to someone, who asks about the ghosts. She says it's not a ghost story; it's a story with ghosts; the ghosts are a metaphor. He tells her it needs a love story. And so that's what we really get: a love story with ghosts that are a metaphor. If that sounds good to you, then you may well enjoy Crimson Peak. If it doesn't, you should skip it. I found myself somewhere in between. The narrative is pretty flat and the characters kinda bland, but I will admit that there was an upside to the false marketing: I legitimately didn't know what was coming next. The reality is both more and less interesting than what I was expecting, but the surprise in and of itself is... something. It's certainly not amazing, but it's something. It's worth noting here that the audience laughed a number of times during my screening. At least a half dozen moments elicited not just one or two chuckles but actual laughter. I've discussed this with a couple of others who've seen it, and though some people think those laughs were intentional I don't. If I had been watching it on my own, I would have laughed... once? It was all very serious, even things that were fairly easy to laugh at. There's no humor in the whole thing, and while that can be funny in and of itself, there's no hint here that it's anything but serious. It's just drama all the damn time. It's hard to know actual intent without asking, but I'll say this: If it was supposed to be funny, it half-succeeded at best. You need to surrender to the melodrama. Or, you can just pay attention to the visuals. Because while I can rip apart the film's concept and execution, its production design is unimpeachable. This is a gorgeous movie through and through (with the exception of a single outdoor scene early on in a sunny park that has some seriously weird coloring choices; also, some of the ghosts are a bit too CG for my liking). As soon as they reach Crimson Peak itself, you're in for nothing but amazing visual after amazing visual. And it's really this that kept the film going for me. I was lukewarm at best on pretty much everything that the film contains, but holy cow do I love the way it looks. That adds at least 10 points to my final score and brings it from a "meh" to "ya know, consider it." Just be sure to temper your expectations.
Crimson Peak Review photo
Great Expectations
The best piece of advice I ever got about writing film criticism was this: "Don't write about what the film isn't." Going for long tangents about What Could Have Been doesn't do any of us any good. Let's talk about what the f...

Review: The Martian

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

Review: Cooties

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

Review: Everest

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


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