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4:00 PM on 10.20.2014

Review: The Book of Life

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 pe...

Nick Valdez


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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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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 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: Behaving Badly photo
Review: Behaving Badly
by Nick Valdez

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. 

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Review: Guardians of the Galaxy photo
Review: Guardians of the Galaxy
by Nick Valdez

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.

Good thing it's not. 

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Review: Hercules photo
Review: Hercules
by Nick Valdez

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. 

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Review: The Purge: Anarchy photo
Review: The Purge: Anarchy
by Nick Valdez

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. 

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Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes photo
Review: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
by Nick Valdez

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. 

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Review: Beneath photo
Review: Beneath
by Nick Valdez

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. 

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Review: All Cheerleaders Die photo
Review: All Cheerleaders Die
by Nick Valdez

With a title like All Cheerleaders Die, I honestly wasn't very excited to see this film. I'm not a huge horror fan, and I don't usually enjoy films full of gratuitous nudity and violence. But because this is what I get paid the big bucks for I dove in expecting yet another Grade B horrorfest. Thankfully, I was horrifically wrong here. 

All Cheerleaders Die is intelligent, snarky, sexy, and completely reinvents the "Scream Queen." I'm so glad I watched All Cheerleaders Die. It's truly a book you shouldn't judge by its cover. 

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Review: How to Train Your Dragon 2 photo
Review: How to Train Your Dragon 2
by Nick Valdez

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. 

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Review: Lullaby photo
Review: Lullaby
by Nick Valdez

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. 

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Review: Maleficent photo
Review: Maleficent
by Nick Valdez

I've been anticipating Maleficent for a long time. As a big Disney fan, I don't usually like when Disney decides to make a live action version of one of their properties (101 Dalmations is worse than you remember, trust me), but casting Angelina Jolie as the titular witch was enough to pique my interest. 

Trailer after trailer showed off how good Jolie looked in costume, Lana Del Rey's amazingly dark "Once Upon a Dream" cover, and even made me interested in the whole "this is the TRUE story" angle. But the entire time I've been worried that the actual film might not live up to the mountain of hype I'd made for myself thanks to the recent glut of lackluster gritty fairy tale reboots. Thankfully, the final product isn't too far off the mark.

Maleficent is like a fine ham and cheese quiche that might not have been baked long enough. It's still good, but some bites are a little more raw than others.

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Review: A Million Ways to Die in the West photo
Review: A Million Ways to Die in the West
by Nick Valdez

Seth MacFarlane's directorial debut, Ted, was a welcome surprise. It was a mix of a charming friendship, un-ironic love of the 80s, and gratuitous amount of raunchy humor. Like the best episodes of MacFarlane's Family Guy, it managed a fine balance between all of those things to provide a high quality product. With his sophomore effort, A Million Ways to Die in the West, I was hoping things would be a little less, well, sophomoric. 

A Million Ways starts strong, but as it continues, it feels like a million years as joke after joke is thrown out with hopes that one of them works. As jokes continually fail, and extraneous scenes pile onto the film's near two hour run, I soon realized I'd rather die in a million different ways than continue watching this juvenile mess.

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Review: X-Men: Days of Future Past photo
Review: X-Men: Days of Future Past
by Nick Valdez

The X-Men movies have a troubled past. Three out of the six previous films have been critically ripped apart. Yet in spite of their dubious quality, each of the X-Films have done extremely well commercially. Basically, no matter how bad we might say the franchise has gotten, there's still a desire to see each one. I know I still watch these movies hoping they'll nail it someday. 

But where does that leave the seventh film in the X-Men series, Days of Future Past? After rebooting the franchise, rebooting Wolverine's origins, changing directors multiple times (and will sadly have to do that once again thanks to recent unfortunate events), and creating a continuity so convoluted no one knows what's going on anymore, Days of Future Past has quite the mountain to climb. 

Luckily for both fans of the X-Men and fans of comic book movies in general, Days of Future Past says "F**k all that" and delivers the best X-Men film to date. 

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Review: Don Peyote photo
Review: Don Peyote
by Nick Valdez

Whenever someone mentions Dan Fogler, I'm suddenly interested. He's a comedic dynamo who always seems to choose interesting or niche projects. Directing his second film since 2009, Fogler displays acting ability that he really hasn't be able to show off yet. With Don Peyote's strange, but cool tale, Fogler has a grand spectrum of insanity.

It's just a shame that the rest of the film falls apart. 

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