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Review: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) photo
Review: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
by Alec Kubas-Meyer

You should see Birdman. In fact, you need to see Birdman. Alejandro González Iñárritu’s film is something truly special, and were it not for the fact that Boyhood finally saw its release, it would undoubtedly be the most fascinating thing to come out this year (and, really, in recent memory). Every single facet of it can be the start of its own overly-long review. And for that reason, this review is going to be split into two parts. This is the main review, and in the coming days I’ll be following it up with a more analytical (though still generally spoiler free) Review Companion piece.

If you know nothing about Birdman, you should just go see it. Close your laptop, turn off your phone, stop whatever it is you are doing and just get to the nearest theater where it’s playing. Going in blind isn’t really necessary here, but there’s no reason not to either. I went in knowing only that it was not an adaptation of Harvey Birdman (spoiler), and that made it especially fascinating for me. But to be honest, the things that I found fascinating probably won’t be the things you find fascinating. Really, there is so freaking much to talk about in this movie.

So let’s get into it. 

[This film was seen as part of our coverage of the 52nd New York Film Festival. It is being posted to coincide with the film's limited theatrical release]

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Review: Whiplash photo
Review: Whiplash
by Alec Kubas-Meyer

I thought the good folks over at the NYFF were kidding when they described Whiplash as "Full Metal Jacket at Julliard." I've been burned by their film descriptions before, so I couldn't trust something that just sounded so brilliant. I mean, that's one hell of a pitch. But sticking with my rule of going into films blind, I left it at that. I didn't watch the trailer, nor did I seek out the short film that raised the money to fund the feature. I didn't even listen to "Whiplash."

But that pitch pulled me in. And much to my surprise, it's shockingly fitting. And to be honest, it's even better than it sounds.

[This review was originally posted as part of our coverage of the 52nd New York Film Festival. It is being reposted to coincide with the film's theatrical release.]

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Review: Dracula Untold photo
Review: Dracula Untold
by Matthew Razak

Everyone listen. I'm going to pretty much surprise the crap out of you because by writing the next sentence I'm surprising the crap out of myself. I enjoyed Dracula Untold. I know. You've probably just decided that maybe you don't want to trust my opinion anymore, but hear me out. 

Dracula Untold is a Universal monster movie. You know those old classics from back in the day that starred Dracula and the Wolfman and the Mummy. In fact they're making an entire film universe for those guys to star in. The point is that those movies were meant to be fun and kind of ridiculous and that is exactly what Dracula Untold is despite its many flaws.

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Review: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day photo
Review: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
by Matthew Razak

To start this will be the only time I am typing the full name of the movie: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. There, got that over with. From here on out we'll be referring to the film as Horrible, No. Everyone else is calling it Alexander so we'll be different.

Horrible, No is quite the surprise as from trailers you probably thought it was a bottom of the barrel adaptation of a classic children's book that Disney just threw a few actors at and dumped into the October slumps. You'd be wrong. While it isn't the most original film out there, it is one of the better family comedies put onto the screen in a while. The jokes may be a bit tired, but there pulled off with such aplomb and pluck that at the end of the day it all turns out good.

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Review: Drive Hard photo
Review: Drive Hard
by Nick Valdez

There's an entire genre of films built around older men in action films. Whether it was bred from a need for some sort of budding power fantasy or a legitimate strive toward capturing the feel of their halcyon days, this genre has done especially well in the current era of nostalgia the movie going public has found themselves in. 

With the bevy of options in this particular genre available (I can think of five or six films about old men driving fast cars off the top of my head right now), what makes Drive Hard (a film coming out of absolutely nowhere) so special? Drive Hard knows what kind of power fantasy (and in turn, the audience) it wants to be and never once shies from it. 

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Review: Gone Girl photo
Review: Gone Girl
by Alec Kubas-Meyer

Gone Girl is the book of the moment. Much as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was The Big Thing when David Fincher adapted it for US screens, Gillian Flynn's novel seems to be ubiquitous. Everyone is reading it and talking about it, and those who aren't are certainly aware of its presence.

I expect this is partially because of the David Fincher adaptation. The book was released in 2012, and though it quickly hit the New York Times Best Seller List, I didn't hear about it until the announcement of its cinematic release. I considered reading it, but I never got around to it. (Flixist Editor-in-Chief Matt Razak has been hounding me to do so now, though, so I may pick it up.)

Walking around New York City, posters for the film are unavoidable. This adaptation is a big deal. The Big Book is about to be The Big Movie.

And it's going to get people talking.

[This review was originally posted as part of our coverage of the 52nd New York Film Festival. It has been reposted to coincide with the film's theatrical release.]

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Review: The Boxtrolls photo
Review: The Boxtrolls
by Nick Valdez

Laika is that rare production company where you absolutely have to pay attention to whatever they put out next. As one of the last few studios that specializes in stop motion animation, their films have garnered a lot of well deserved praise. With such a demanding production, their output is limited to one film every few years, the pressure is on to make every film count. 

The company's last film, ParaNorman, went on to become my favorite animated film of 2012 so I jumped into The Boxtrolls hoping to see some amazing work once again. Thankfully, The Boxtrolls is another hit for Laika...but unfortunately isn't a hit out of the park. 

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Review: The Equalizer photo
Review: The Equalizer
by Nick Valdez

I've been looking forward to The Equalizer for some time. The first trailer I sat down and watched featured a cool new Eminem song, Denzel Washington acting like a vengeful badass again, and couldn't stop boasting how it's from the director of Training Day, Antoine Fuqua. Figured that should've been a red flag. 

Although Fuqua's direction on Training Day was good, it was a great film because it had a good team behind it. Take away that team and you'll find the rest of Fuqua's career: King Arthur, Shooter, and Olympus Has Fallen. But hey, he's finally reunited with Denzel Washington! Washington is a powerhouse, so of course they'd bring their A game, right? 

With how much Washington leisurely strolls from place to place in The Equalizer, it's a shame he never gets anywhere. 

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Review: This is Where I Leave You photo
Review: This is Where I Leave You
by Matthew Razak

The dramatic family comedy. A staple in our modern day film scene. Throw is some folky pop music and a few stars and you've got yourself a big giant cliche ready for the theaters. There are ways to do it right, though. If you can pull your film out of melodrama and into actual emotion then you can hit the nail on the head. It happens.

It only half happened here. This Is Where I Leave You boldly teases at pushing its characters and feelings in interesting directions, but holds back far too much. It leaves us with a family dramedy that works on basic levels, but never transcends its genre. 

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Review: A Walk Among the Tombstones photo
Review: A Walk Among the Tombstones
by Matthew Razak

Looking back over Liam Neeson's career since Taken turned him into an action hero one could argue that he's basically made the same movie over and over. A vengeful individual in some sort of manly battle involving life and death. And, yes, that is a valid argument. But it also isn't. 

See, while Neeson's films have all been pushed the same way, they actually haven't all been that similar (both in tone and quality). From the outstanding The Grey too the awful Taken 2 Neeson has basically played around with the theme of the bad ass, elder hero in a variety of ways. Now they haven't always worked, but one thing remains consistent: Neeson is awesome. That pretty much describes A Walk Among the Tombstones perfectly. It doesn't always work, but Neeson is awesome.

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Review: The Maze Runner photo
Review: The Maze Runner
by Nick Valdez

As  Flixist's resident Young Adult novel correspondent, I've seen lots of forgettable teen films. With studios betting huge fortunes on these films becoming successful franchises (like Twilight and The Hunger Games), most of these series tend to forget they need a suitable first entry to get kids interested in the first place less they flop around and count their chickens before anything hatches like Divergent. 

The Maze Runner is the latest in a long line of hopeful franchises that want to hit the ground running, but it stumbles out the gate. While it looks good, and is acted well enough, there's no cheese at the end of this maze. 

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Review: The Guest photo
Review: The Guest
by Nick Valdez

When I saw the first trailer for The Guest I wasn't particularly interested in the film. It looked generic, bland, and seemed like yet another trite thriller that comes out around Halloween for a cheap buck. But like You're Next (written and directed by the same duo of Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett) last year, there's more here than I initially gave it credit for. 

You're Next went on to become one of my favorite films of 2013, and now The Guest joins alongside as my favorite film of 2014 so far. It exceeded my expectations. Fantastic, thrilling, exquisite, nail biting, hilarious, captivating...

There simply aren't enough buzzwords to capture how much I loved The Guest. 

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Review: The Pirates photo
Review: The Pirates
by Alec Kubas-Meyer

Every so often, a film comes along that completely shatters your expectations. You think you've got it figured out and then it throws a curveball. Then another. Then five more. Soon you realize you can't figure the film out and you have to just let it happen, because even hazarding a guess at what happens next will just make you look silly. It's rare for something so consistently bizarre to be released, and even rarer for it to be a blockbuster, even a foreign one.

But The Pirates is one of those films. And I'm still reeling from the impact.

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Review: The Drop photo
Review: The Drop
by Matthew Razak

The Drop is one of those little crime thrillers that comes out and no one really hears about it and you aren't sure why it was made. Possibly the studio thought it could grab some award love or something, but nothing is actually going to come out of it. This is too bad because Tom Hardy gives a performance that you could never see coming from the man.

The Drop sadly isn't up to its star's performance, but that only makes Hardy stand out more. There is nothing more fantastic than watching an actor completely embody a role. There are few things more upsetting than watching the movie surrounding it never match it.

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Review: Kundo: Age of the Rampant photo
Review: Kundo: Age of the Rampant
by Alec Kubas-Meyer

When I decide to watch a movie, it is usually based on two thing:

  1. Whether or not the press picture implies some kind of action.
  2. The runtime.

While there's obviously some leeway on the first one, once a movie pushes past the two hour mark I tend to weigh my interest more carefully. I'll take a random chance on an 80 minute movie or a 100 minute. But a movie that's 135 minutes? That's past the limits of the "Why not?" attitude. I'm not sure what it says about my psychology, but that's the way it is.

The press notes for Kundo show a bald man wielding two giant butcher knives (check!) and gave a 100 minute runtime (check!). That sounded right up my alley.

But while it definitely has the action I was looking for, the runtime on the press notes was off by 35 minutes. That was an unwelcome surprise.

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Review: The November Man photo
Review: The November Man
by Matthew Razak

The fact that Pierce Brosnan was returning to spy movies pretty much made me one of the most excited people around. The November Man would be a harder, R-rated James Bond with some good action and maybe a little throwback feel to the spy films of the 90s. I'd be quite happy with even the most mediocre of old-school thrillers with that set up.

It says a lot that I am not happy with this movie at all, not even with Pierce Brosnan.

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Review: Cam2Cam photo
Review: Cam2Cam
by Alec Kubas-Meyer

In past reviews, I've written about the problems with poor subtitles on foreign films. Improper use of language serves as a distraction from the comedy or drama and makes the experience worse. I love the English language. It's my lifeblood and my livelihood. So when I see it mangled, I get angry. When it comes to foreign films, I can at least forgive the fundamental language barrier. It's the reality of a love of foreign films, and I am willing to cut some slack.

But though Cam2Cam takes place in Bangkok, the film is in English and was ostensibly written by someone whose first language was English. I say ostensibly because I have trouble believing that's true.

Then again, what was I supposed to expect from a movie called "Cam2Cam"?

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Review: When the Game Stands Tall photo
Review: When the Game Stands Tall
by Matthew Razak

I'm a sucker for sports movies. You give me a gang of lovable underdogs, a few training montages and a triumphant final game and I'm in your pocket. It's just so easy to get caught up in a sport film even when their bad. They hit all the right points that we love and when done even remotely right you at least feel a little bit of joy when those underdogs win the big game. What I'm saying is that it is really hard to make a sports film that you just stop caring about. 

When the Games Stands Tall does this. Not only does it go on for way longer than it should, but it doesn't grab you in the first place. It's as if the filmmakers had never seen a sports film before. No, check that. It's as if they had never seen any movie before.

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Review: The Giver photo
Review: The Giver
by Alec Kubas-Meyer

It's been more than 20 years since Lois Lowry's The Giver first hit shelves, and more than a decade since I first read it. It's one of those transformative books, and before the recent YA trend towards totalitarianism, the first exposure most people had to dystopias. It's not really 1984 for children (because it's not really for children, despite everyone I know having reading before middle school), but what it says about the world and about imagination is formative for a lot of people. It definitely was for me.

When I heard it was being adapted, I wasn't excited about it, but I also wasn't totally put off. It's a story about imagery, and actually seeing some of the images that are discussed in the book (and the way they affect the view of a colorless, lifeless world) struck me as potentially compelling.

But as I sat in the theater, I realized that I was wrong: The Giver isn't about imagery at all.

It's about imagination.

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Review: The Expendables 3 photo
Review: The Expendables 3
by Nick Valdez

The Expendables could've been a good series had it been advertised differently. First touted as a return to form for aging 80s action stars as they wax nostalgic about their glory days, The Expendables turned out to be a greyish blob that somehow muddied up the colorful personalities which inhabited it.

Then the same thing happened in the sequel. The actors got a bit more room to play, but as the cast ballooned, the little joy to be had was smothered by more generic shooty bang bang. With the advertising for The Expendables 3 copying Fast & Furious 6's font, Stallone making a big deal about dropping Bruce Willis from the cast, and adding a bunch of relative nobodies to the roster, the third film looked to follow in the same pattern. 

This better be the last one. 

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Review: Into the Storm photo
Review: Into the Storm
by Matthew Razak

Into the Storm is one of those movies that you wonder where it came from. Natural disaster films are so early 2000s and this one feels particularly ancient. Clearly the thinking was that with all the super storms hitting us the time was ripe to pick the genre again, but it really isn't and Into the Storm isn't the film to do it in.

While you don't have to do much to be a competent natural disaster movie there are a few rules. The biggest one is not to actively insult people who have actually been affected by cataclysmic disasters. Into the Storm fails at this, and while it may succeed at a few other things because of that it fails completely. 

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Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles photo
Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
by Matthew Razak

OK, we've all seen the new look of the Ninja Turtles, and if you haven't there it is up there in the header. It's hideous. They look really weird and totally ugly. That doesn't change in this movie. We're just all going to have to live with it (unless the movie flops and we don't get a direct sequel). Thanks to that I won't be discussing their look anymore. It just is.

How does one reboot a franchise that's already been rebooted repeatedly in multiple formats. There's one key factor that makes the Ninja Turtles work. It isn't the ninja factor or the mutant turtle factor or the teenage factor. What makes it work is that the turtles are actually interesting characters with a family dynamic that always pays off. Rewatch the original live action film. It's fun, but it's also a fantastic movie because they treat the turtles as real characters and when that's done it's easy to see why the franchise is eternal.

Of course a film produced by Michael Bay doesn't exactly hint at strong character development, does it?

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