This is it guys ... the final episode of Flixistentialism as we know it. The gang plus some old (white) faces of Flixist past get together and reminisce on this long journey of a podcast we've all embarked on. There's fantasy...
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.
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.
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.
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?
If you've followed my reviews here on Flixist, you'll realize that I'm particularly drawn to smaller VOD projects in between the big releases for any bevy of reasons. Whether it's because it features pretty ladies, pretty gentleman, or pretty rocks, I like taking gambles and possibly stumbling on something great that I would've missed otherwise.
Unfortunately, sometimes I gamble and lose. I wanted to review Behaving Badly because it stars a few people I'm interested in, and figured they'd never intentionally choose something awful for themselves. Boy, was I wrong.
I should admit this outright. Whether it's the nature of my job, or the seemingly endless deluge of Marvel Studios news that we write on everyday, I've succumbed to Marvel fatigue. That's why I was instantly drawn to Guardians of the Galaxy. From the first trailer on it promised something entirely unique within the Marvel formula, and although it too is a stepping stone within Marvel Studios' grander scheme, it stood out for good reasons.
With a quirky director whose only done smaller projects, a star studded cast painted green and voicing things like animated raccoons and trees, its 70s rock inspired soundtrack, and its complete foray into comic book oddities, Guardians of the Galaxy could've easily been Marvel's biggest failure.
I've been anticipating Hercules' release for a while now. I love Dwayne Johnson, and want to see him in more leading roles that aren't just kid films. I figure he's got the charisma and talent just buried somewhere in there and needs the proper outlet.
So when the first trailer for Hercules looked okay, I was stoked. It looked dumb, but the right kind of dumb. The more I waited, the more I ignored all the red flags. It's directed by Brett Ratner (who once screwed up the X-Men films so bad, it took them four more movies to recover), there were no screenings prior to its release (which usually signals a bad film), and each trailer after the first one showed off the same scenes (which means they're the only good ones). But I desperately wanted Hercules to be entertaining. Johnson deserves this after all his years of work.
Unfortunately, Hercules somehow makes "The Rock Yelling at Things While Shirtless" a bad idea.
The war in Afghanistan is the longest military conflict in which the United States has been involved. The operation is nowhere near as successful as hoped, which is part of the reality of fighting a war in Afghanistan, a lesson that the Soviet Union learned in the 1980s. Much of the logistic difficulty comes from the terrain and the size of the country. For the US, this difficult was compounded by its attempts to rebuild infrastructure and develop trust with the civilian population. Part of the issue here may be some of the troops themselves.
The documentary Kill Team chronicles one instance of egregious war crimes that US troops perpetrated against the people of Afghanistan. One army unit played a game in which they'd murder innocent civilians and pretend that they were enemy combatants.
One of the most chilling things about Kill Team is the matter-of-fact way that one of the troops characterizes these kinds of war crimes: it happens way more than we think, they were just the ones who got caught.
[This review was original posted as part of our coverage of the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival. It is being posted to coincide with its theatrical release.]
The Purge came and went without much fanfare. It had an interesting premise (which spawned the #CrimeDay Twitter game here on Flixist), but wasted it with a by-the-numbers home invasion film. When The Purge: Anarchy was first announced (along with the sentiment that we'd get a new Purge film every year), I was initially against the idea of yet another mediocre franchise getting run into the ground.
But, Anarchy has something no other Blumhouse Productions film has (the company that's responsible for Paranormal Activity and Insidious): Quality. For once, I found myself okay with getting more of the same series.
If every Purge film can be as good as Anarchy going forward, then we're in for a hell of a good time.
When a prequel to Planet of the Apes was first announced, it seemed like yet another cynical cash in. Yet Rise of the Planet of the Apes tried its hardest to prove everyone wrong with top notch visuals, acting, and score. Although its eventual finale made it seem more like a reboot of Harry and the Hendersons than Planet, it was a good step in the right direction despite its problems.
Which is why Dawn of the Planet of the Apes sticks out so much. Could a sequel accomplish what its predecessor didn't? Could it finally live up to the technological advances of the first? It turns out, I had no reason to worry. Dawn far exceeds Rise, and it's the rare sequel that even makes the original film a better experience.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes definitely did not make a monkey out of me.
In all my years seeing movies, I don’t think I’ve seen a collective shrug quite like the one my theater experienced upon leaving Deliver Us From Evil. A passive gesture of that magnitude could only have been triggered by a film destined to fall into obscurity the instant Wal-Mart removes it from the featured DVD rack.
You will not hate Deliver Us From Evil, but I’ll bet all the money in my pockets against all the money in your pockets that you won’t remember it long after you’ve left the theater. (Unless clinging on to memories of sub-par movies is part of your job, in which case, you have my sympathies.)
Tammy is a film you really want to be good. An almost entirely female led cast in a raunchy comedy is still a rarity despite Bridesmaids showing us all it can be done successfully. This is the kind of movie we need to diversify the comedy scene and give us something else than Judd Apatow and Wayans brothers films.
That is it would be the kind of movie if it was any good at all. Unfortunately Tammy is a complete and total mess of a film devoid of much humor and suffering from even less character development. If you name your film after its lead character she better be damn interesting and Tammy is not.
Han Gong-Ju is incredible. It's easily the best film I've seen at the New York Asian Film Festival thus far and among the best I've seen in a long time.
It's also extremely depressing, to the point where I'm not sure I can really write about it. But I can't in good conscience not give it my sincerest recommendation. If you're in New York, it's playing at MoMA for the next week. Tickets can be bought here.
Whether we end up with a full review or not, go see Han Gong-Ju.
[For the next month, we will be covering the 2014 New York Asian Film Festival and the Japan-centric Japan Cuts. Click here for more information, and check back here and here for all of the Asian film coverage you can shake a stick at.]
Director/Writer John Carney is establishing a little nitch for himself in the film industry. A modern take on the backstage musical except now the stage is the studio and the music is far less grandiose. With Once, his academy award winning film, he nailed the sort of real world drama musical and he returns to that new genre again with Begin Again except this time he has big name stars and an American budget.
Carney is clearly a talented and emotional musician and returning to this form allows him to flex those muscles once again. Can he have the same impact as he did on his debut feature film or does upping the ante in almost every department mean a bit of soul is lost? In a film about finding the soul of art and yourself it's a bit ironic what the answer to that question is.
Coal mining is a scarily dangerous profession. Our need for crude energies leads thousands of people to risk their lives every day mining for energy. It's a wonder that with such harsh conditions, it's taken this long for a film to capitalize on that setting's natural creepiness. Now we finally have one in Beneath, a film inspired by a true story of several miners getting trapped in a mine.
Eschewing traditional horror and instead developing a surprising psychological thriller, Beneath is a unique take on paranoia, isolation, and suffocation. It's just too bad you don't really care what happens to any of these people.
I'm going to tear this movie apart. It's coming right below the jump. Just be ready for it. Because of that I want to open with this: Optimus Prime riding Grimlock into battle in Hong Kong is frickin' awesome. There's just no denying how cool Transformers can be and that Michael Bay can pull off some awesome stuff. There are parts of this film that will blow you away.
It's just that the rest of it is so bad it isn't worth it.
Snowpiercer has been among my most anticipated films for the past several years. Every time we did a preview of what's upcoming, Snowpiercer has been on there in some capacity. When it got its Korean release last year, I was convinced a US release was imminent. I mean, it stars Captain America! How could it possibly be delayed?
But, of course, it was. The Weinstein Company took on distribution rights, but they wanted to cut it and Bong Joon-Ho refused to let them do so. So now the release is finally upon us, the full film as it was intended, but only a limited release.
I'm still annoyed at The Weinstein Company for trying to mess with the film in the first place... but I have to admit that I kind of understand why.
The German title of Nothing Bad Can Happen is "Tore Dances," something I knew from the beginning thanks to the multiple attempts I have made at learning German in my life. It's one of the few things I remember, but I'm glad it's something I knew from the outset, because while a name like "Nothing Bad Can Happen" is immediately off-putting, "Tore Dances" is not. No movie called Nothing Bad Is Going to Happen is going to end well. I mean, seriously. Right off the bat, you see that and you call bullshit. "Tore Dances," on the other hand, leaves a bit more to the imagination. It's also a bit less marketable (people are definitely more interested in seeing something bad happen than watching Tore dance), so I can understand why the change was made.
Coherence is part of a genre that will be heretofore referred to as "subtle sci-fi." Mention sci-fi to anyone and they'll think of Star Wars or Star Trek first. And they'll think of those films because that's what we've been bred to believe sci-fi is. These are worlds unlike our own, whether they're far in the future or a way in the past. They may feature people who look like us, but their characters don't really live like us. They're surrounded by robots and aliens and guns that shoot lasers. They're the things we imagine our technology will be capable of.
What people won't think of is Coherence, even though it's firmly entrenched in that genre. They won't think about it because the world of Coherence is the same one you and I am writing in and the same one you are reading in. There's no special technology, nothing that distinguishes their world from ours. Everything feels real not just on a dramatic level but on a visceral level. You believe that these people are in this position, and you wonder if maybe—just maybe—it could happen to you.
Despite being proven horribly wrong when 21 Jump Street film came out and it turned out to be hilarious instead of horrible I was once again a doubter when news hit that 22 Jump Street was coming along. The first one worked and here comes the obligatory sequel that will just recap all the old jokes and ruin it was my line of thinking.
Sometimes it's good to be wrong... twice. I suppose I shouldn't have been so suspect with basically the entire creative team returning for the film, but how was I supposed to know they'd actually make a comedy sequel that was both different from the original and smart in its own way. It's not something movie studios usually do, but both Jump Street films have proven that the series (please let there be more) is all about pointing out or expectations and then destroying them.
Dreamworks' How to Train Your Dragon was refreshing. Setting new standards for book adaptations and animated films, Dragon somehow was everything you look for in an entertaining kid's movie. It had a tight hero's journey story (that was nuanced enough for adults and respected kids' intelligence), good looking visuals, a great voice cast, and it managed all of this while being cute as a button.
Good thing its sequel, How to Train Your Dragon 2, keeps the momentum going as it raises the bar for sequels going forward. With how prevalent inadequate sequels/prequels/reboots have been in Hollywood lately, I'd forgive you for fearing Dragon 2 would suffer the same fate. Luckily, we don't have to worry about that one bit. Cheap little throwaways are not going to cut it anymore.
We've got a contender for Best Animated Film of 2014 right here folks.
Disease dramas are in a subgenre that certainly has more misses than hits. If not done in a certain way, you can turn an emotionally stirring story into a schmaltzy mess. Often films find it incredibly difficult to find a balance, but as such with real life, there's no rule book or true direction as to how to deal with death. Filming this very unnatural, awkward run through the five stages of grief could lead to a good film.
But when you condense that into two hours, there's not a lot of room explore. Sadly, that seems to be Lullaby in a nutshell. A film that really wants to walk through the five stages of grief when it really should jog at a brisk pace.