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5:00 PM on 02.27.2015

Review: Focus

I love a good con movie. From The Sting to Ocean’s Eleven to Catch Me If You Can, the genre is as formulaic as it is entertaining. The secret to its success is a combination of familiar warmth and detached unpredictab...

Jackson Tyler




Review: Fifty Shades of Grey photo
Review: Fifty Shades of Grey
by Nick Valdez

I should start this review by being as frank as possible. I'm not really sure who this review is for. With Fifty Shades of Grey, you'll fall into either one of two camps. You're either planning to see it (or have already seen it) regardless of what I'm going to say for the next couple of paragraphs, or you're going to avoid the film altogether thanks to the esoteric nature of its erotic subject matter. 

But for those of you who have fallen to the wayside and are a bit curious thanks to the shape this pop culture juggernaut has taken, don't follow up on that feeling. Because if you're willing to sit through this two hour slog without heeding my warning, you're also "fifty shades of f**ked up."

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Review: The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out of Water photo
Review: The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out of Water
by Nick Valdez

This may come as a surprise to you, but Spongebob Squarepants is still the juggernaut of a cartoon it was when it first debuted back in 1999. Never ceasing to keep kids' attention thanks to its unique characters and ever evolving comedy. Most importantly, it just has a lot of fun. 

I've been excited for Sponge Out of Water for some time. A sequel to a ten year old film, Water looked ambitious, full of crazy art styles, and once again had all of the fun that the series is known for. Good thing the film mostly lives up to that even if the humor has changed from what I remember. 

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Review: A Most Violent Year photo
Review: A Most Violent Year
by Nick Valdez

I had no idea what A Most Violent Year was before my screening. This was even before the smaller, limited release managed to gain traction and before I realized how good the cast assembled was. With little to no advertising, it was swallowed up by the big films vying for awards during this more difficult season. 

But now that the season is over, and A Most Violent Year is finally opening for a wider release, I can finally admit how wrong I was for ignoring it for so long. A Most Violent Year is precise, intelligent, and full of powerful moments. 

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Review: Foxcatcher photo
Review: Foxcatcher
by Nick Valdez

Foxcatcher quickly grabbed a lot of attention for its stark representation of some big named actors. While Steve Carell has tackled heavier material before, he had never looked as sinister as he did in the first couple of images released, and while Channing Tatum was breaking out, his career had yet to take him in this kind of direction. Gaining traction through the festival circuit and a limited release before it hit wide, Foxcatcher seemed primed for the big awards season. 

It's got all of the pieces for a bonafide award contender. It's based on a depressing true story, features notable actors doing something unconventional, and there's plenty of drugs and make up. But too bad it doesn't have the most important aspect of a good film: a direction. 

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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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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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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: 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: The Scribbler photo
Review: The Scribbler
by Nick Valdez

When I choose to review a film it's because something about it speaks to me. Whether it's the premise, the setting, the look, or the cast involved, I'm willing to take a chance on pretty much anything if some of those things are there. I chose to review The Scribbler because it happened to have everything on that list: great cast, interesting idea, and it's based on a graphic novel. I'd figure that maybe I'd stumble into something great. 

The Scribbler taught me not to blindly choose films anymore. 

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