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Review: Into the Woods photo
Review: Into the Woods
by Nick Valdez

For a Disney adaptation of a popular musical, Into the Woods has flown surprisingly under the radar. Coming out of practically nowhere, and with all of the early advertising hiding the fact that it is a musical, you'd think Disney was somehow afraid of Into the Woods' oddball nature. But maybe flying under the radar was a good thing as it gets away with way more than you'd expect.  

Into the Woods gets away with being a full blown musical, and it awesomely does not care what you think of it. 

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Review: Big Eyes photo
Review: Big Eyes
by Matthew Razak

Everyone, I'm about to shock you to your core. Big Eyes is a Tim Burton film and it is quite possible that the color black doesn't appear once. Shades of greys and shadows, yes, but the Gothic trendings of the director are almost completely lost in this film. Except for the doe-eyed "Big Eyes" that the subject of the film, Margaret Keane, paints there's almost no hint of Burton.

Yet it is a Burton film, through and through. Full of the weird and twisted story lines, trippy asthetics and slightly zonked out performance. It's Burton turned real life, and it surprisingly works.

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Review: The Interview photo
Review: The Interview
by Nick Valdez

After a crazy couple of weeks of Sony hacks, full on terrorist attack threats, cancellations, and a last minute reneging, I sort of forgot that at the center of all this mess was a comedy starring Seth Rogen and James Franco. Under normal circumstances, The Interview would've gone on to be a moderate success like the rest of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg's recent string of films and we would've moved on to something else. But, these aren't normal circumstances. 

What's now a historical piece of cinema thanks to sparking freedom of art debates and a simultaneous theatrical and video on demand release, there have been arguments as to whether or not The Interview was "worthy" of all this attention. Disregarding all of that and looking at this film as a singularity (basically reviewing the film as if all this never happened) yields the same result as if I would've tried to shoehorn in all of that "worthy" talk myself: 

The Interview is pretty damn fun. 

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Review: American Sniper photo
Review: American Sniper
by Matthew Razak

Clint Eastwood is easily one of the best directors in Hollywood so him tackling the incredible story of Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle is something to get pretty excited about. We already know he has the war movie chops thanks to Letters from Iwo Jima. 

American war heroes are a tricky business in this day and age. We know too much of the truth of war thanks to it being beamed into our houses and on the news nightly. It isn't all heroes and perfect endings where the good guys win. American Sniper tries to tackle this modern day contradiction of what a war hero is, but can it find out when all it wants to do is shoot things?

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Review: Unbroken photo
Review: Unbroken
by Matthew Razak

Unbroken is the first film directed by Angelina Jolie. That alone has given it a lot of hype, but it's easy to understand why it would be pushing at Oscars anyway. It's base on the true story of a WWII hero and Oscar just eats up historical war dramas like that. Legendary and Universal clearly are setting this up as Oscar bait.

There's a difference, however, between deserving an Oscar and desperately trying for one. Unbroken is desperately trying for one. "I should be an Oscar film," it screams without actually being one. Like a spoiled rich kid it believes it deserves something that it hasn't earned.

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Review: Selma photo
Review: Selma
by Matthew Razak

There's something to be said for perfect timing. Would Selma be one of the best movies of the year if it had released in January? Yes. But coming out now makes it a true masterpiece of its time. As we try to wrap our heads around Eric Garner and Ferguson here comes a movie about one of the most pivotal moments in the civil rights movement. It is a film for our times and given the times it will leave you floored the second the credits roll.

It is also exactly how you should make a "bio pic." A slice in time, not a checkbox of a person's life. This is a film that captures Martin Luther King Jr. by giving us a look at one instance and extrapolating from there. If it weren't for the stunning achievement of Boyhood this would be the greatest film of the year. 

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Review: The Babadook photo
Review: The Babadook
by Nick Valdez

I've been interested in The Babadook ever since our editor supreme, Matthew Razak, wrote a feature detailing how progressive it was. If you've read any of my reviews in the past (or any of my other work here on Flixist), you know that I'm not a particular fan of horror films. Besides being a giant baby man who scares easily, the horror genre isn't exactly the most unique genre out there. You see one film, you've seen them all. 

But within the last few years, horror films have been trying their best to remind us why they're special in the first place. Horror can explore and exploit what other films can't: darkness, depression, anxiety, fear, regret, and loneliness. 

The Babadook wraps all of that up into one fantastic package as it becomes one of the most original horror films of the decade. 

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Review: Annie photo
Review: Annie
by Nick Valdez

Remakes are always at a disadvantage. Regardless of the final product's quality, it will always be compared to the film it's adapting. Remakes usually are stuck with two options: Either pay homage to the original and make fans happy or create something brand new and remake a film in name only. It's sort of a damned if you, damned if you don't situation. 

Either path you choose will rub someone, somewhere the wrong way. In a situation where you can't possibly win, it's totally understandable how Annie tries to have as much fun as it can as it attempts to blend both new and old.

But in trying to please everyone, Annie pleases none. 

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Review: The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies photo
Review: The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies
by Matthew Razak

When Peter Jackson announced that he'd be stretching The Hobbit into three movies I was a bit wary, but excited. While the book itself could have easily been put into one, maybe two, films there's enough lore in the world to fluff our three movies. Still, it seemed like a stretch. However, after I enjoyed both the first and second films -- fully acknowledging that they were not as good as the original LotR films -- I was all set to watch an over two hour action sequence take place in the third.

Really that's all that's left. What amounts to a pretty minor part of the book after (spoilers) the death of Smaug is now stretched out into a full film. Two hours of Middle Earth action sounds pretty good to me, especially after enjoying the first two. I should have known that it isn't action that makes Middle Earth awesome.

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Review: Exodus: Gods and Kings photo
Review: Exodus: Gods and Kings
by Nick Valdez

Folks don't know this about me, but I have a soft spot for biblical stories. Having been raised half Roman Catholic, half who gives a hooey, I have an abundant knowledge of Christian bible quotes and intricacies. Regardless of your beliefs, you have to admit the Bible is full of fantastical, involving stories ripe for big budget adaptations like these. 

It's really the simplicity of it all that makes it entertaining. Bad guys are bad, good guys are unequivocally good, and some invisible force is guiding everyone's decisions. But when that guiding force doesn't know when to reign it in, you get Exodus: Gods and Kings. 

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Review: Horrible Bosses 2 photo
Review: Horrible Bosses 2
by Matthew Razak

You know when something is funny you just have to do it again, right? That's the logic with Horrible Bosses 2. The original film actually had an appealing cast that worked well together pulling the film out of cliche and into funny. Seems reasonable to assume they could do it again.

In fact so reasonable that they brought everyone back (well everyone who survived the first). Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day all jump back into roles that were never meant to be jumped back into. Can the trio elevate another film?

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Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 photo
Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1
by Nick Valdez

The Hunger Games has come a long way. From humble meh-ish beginnings, to a sequel that, well, caught fire in theaters, the films have gotten increasingly better the more comfortable everyone gets with the material. Going into the latest, Mockingjay- Part 1 (which is based off half of the final text in the book trilogy), that upward trend certainly continues. 

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay- Part 1 is the pinnacle of the Hunger Games series. A payoff of two years of buildup that finally cements this series as the main example of how to do these Young Adult book adaptations. It may have taken a while to get to the peak, but the view is totally worth it.  

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Review: Dumb and Dumber To photo
Review: Dumb and Dumber To
by Nick Valdez

Twenty years is a long, long time. I was five years old when Dumb and Dumber first hit theaters in 1994, so the madcap antics of Harry and Lloyd appealed to me. Fart jokes, sex jokes I was not yet old enough to comprehend completely, murder, slapstick, and two actors in their prime at the center of it all. 

But as I've gotten older, so has the nature of comedy. Comedic films have gotten far more sophisticated with their dick jokes and has evolved beyond what it once was. But Dumb and Dumber To hopes we have just a bit more nostalgic room in our hearts for one more romp with these two goofs. 

It's just when you see what they've become, it's hard not to feel ashamed for everyone involved. 

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

I remember distinctly when Jon Stewart left The Daily Show for three months to head to Jordan to shoot his directorial debut. It was an interesting time both because John Oliver took his spot (and did an excellent job there) but also because I was just so curious what he was making. Jon Stewart making a movie in Jordan? What?

And I immediately knew that I had to see it whenever it was finally available. Initial reception was a bit tepid, but it didn't matter. I had to see it for myself and give it a fair shake. The Daily Show plays a significant enough role in my life that I felt I owed its host that much.

Fortunately, Rosewater is something worth watching.

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Review: The Theory of Everything photo
Review: The Theory of Everything
by Megan Porch

Every year, there is at least one biographic film about someone who accomplished great things in his or her life, whether it's something artistic, scientific, or otherwise. This year's biopic of note is The Theory of Everything, which tells the story of Professor Stephen Hawking and his ex-wife, Jane Hawking.

Based on Jane Hawking's book, Traveling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen, the film touches a bit on Hawking's work as a scientist, but focuses more on his relationship with Jane and how things change as their relationship and his disease begin to develop. It is an intimate series of moments of their lives together.

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Review: Laggies photo
Review: Laggies
by Nick Valdez

I'm at a point in my life where I have absolutely no idea what to do next. I graduated from college two years ago and, even with all I think I've accomplished over that time, I sometimes feel like I'm walking in circles. Like I'm a turtle stuck in a mound of sand desperately trying to get back to the ocean. 

That's why Laggies appealed to me. It's a type of film that's been done many times in the past, but the cast of well placed actors helps anchor the film in a loose, humorous reality. Although it's not a complete reveal, it's a nice window into the millennial pause. 

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Review: Big Hero 6 photo
Review: Big Hero 6
by Matthew Razak

When Disney scooped up Marvel they picked up a ton of comic book history and properties. You had to guess they wouldn't use them all in the same way (i.e. massive blockbusters), and Big Hero 6 is the first Marvel film to break out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In fact Big Hero 6, a Disney Animation production, doesn't even have the Marvel logo before it. This is not a Marvel film, it is a Disney one.

For that we can be quite thankful. Disney has finally gotten its footing in the animated world once again and following Frozen expectations couldn't be higher for the studio's next animated film. While I seriously doubt that Big Hero 6 will inspire the crazed fervor that Frozen did, Disney's recaptured magic his still here, elevating a kid's superhero movie to something more. 

Also, Baymax.

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Review: Why Don't You Play in Hell? photo
Review: Why Don't You Play in Hell?
by Alec Kubas-Meyer

Last year, Japan Cuts played Sion Sono's Bad Film, a project filmed back in 1995 but not finished until 2012. In my non-review of the film, I unequivocally called it a masterpiece, and I stand by every word. It is a labor of love that throws caution to the wind in order to just make a freaking movie, everyone and everything else be damned. This is Sion Sono's world and you just have to deal with it.

Why Don't You Play in Hell? is a celebration of that worldview. And it's every bit as brilliant as you could hope.

[This review was original posted as part of our coverage of the 2014 New York Asian Film Festival. It is being reposted to coincide with the film's theatrical release.]

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Review: Nightcrawler photo
Review: Nightcrawler
by Nick Valdez

Nightcrawler has come out of nowhere to become one of my favorite films of 2014. As of right now, I'd even go as far to say that it is my favorite overall. I didn't even know it existed until a few months ago where a brief teaser, revealing a skinnier, slightly menacing Jake Gyllenhaal, completely gripped me. It's all I've been thinking about for a while. As with most things I hype up for myself, I was worried that the final product would ultimately let me down in some way. 

Thankfully, Nightcrawler is everything I hoped it'd be. If this is the only part of the reviews you read, go see Nightcrawler. For everyone else, I just have to talk about it. 

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Review: Ouija photo
Review: Ouija
by Nick Valdez

Ouija, read as "wee jah" and not "wee gee," is the latest in a line of films I can't believe exist. Movies are pretty much made from anything with a recognizable name now. I mean, we're in a post-Battleship world here people, so sky's the limit for potential money makers. What's next? An ultra dramatic adaptation of Operation? A super depressing Life? What about a science fiction take on Mouse Trap? 

But Ouija wants to avoid all of this by attempting to be a horror movie that just so happens to involve a certain toy...sort of like the million other films that feature the game. But the main question here is: Can Ouija mine horror tropes and go beyond its namesake to become a film capable of standing on its on two feet?

Not really, no. 

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Review: The Book of Life photo
Review: The Book of Life
by Nick Valdez

Although advertisements for The Book of Life really didn't kick in until a few months before its release, I've been eagerly anticipating the film for a bevy of reasons. It's produced by Guillermo Del Toro (thus giving it a pedigree), it's directed by Jorge Gutierrez (who once created one of my favorite Nickelodeon cartoons, El Tigre), and it's one of the few mainstream accepted films celebrating Mexican culture. In fact, I'm having a hard time picturing a Latino animated film in recent years (The Road to El Dorado is the only one I can think of, really). 

So with all of that on the line, how does The Book of Life handle the pressure? It's got to deliver an entertaining children's film, it's got to educate folks on the Mesoamerican holiday Dia de Muertos, and it has to do all of this while making sure it has a competent story of its own. Thankfully, The Book of Life maintains some of its balance during this trapeze act of remarkable proportions.  

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Review: Fury photo
Review: Fury
by Nick Valdez

I've been anticipating Fury for quite some time. Writer/Director David Ayer is one of my favorite folks in the industry, and I'm always eager to find out what he's churning out next. From Training Day to The Fast and The Furious, Ayer's writing is always top notch. Though recently he's taken up the directing duties himself (resulting in one of 2012's best films, End of Watch) I was a bit worried after his most recent effort, Sabotage, released to middling reviews earlier this year. 

Looks like Fury drew all of his real focus. Fury debuted its first trailer with a bang, and has never let go. Tragic, hilarious, and full of more acting chops than you can shake a stick at, Fury is f**king fierce. 

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