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8:00 AM on 12.19.2014

Review: Annie

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 fan...

Nick Valdez


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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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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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