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3:00 PM on 10.31.2014

Review: Nightcrawler

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 te...

Nick Valdez


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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: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) photo
Review: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
by Alec Kubas-Meyer

You should see Birdman. In fact, you need to see Birdman. Alejandro González Iñárritu’s film is something truly special, and were it not for the fact that Boyhood finally saw its release, it would undoubtedly be the most fascinating thing to come out this year (and, really, in recent memory). Every single facet of it can be the start of its own overly-long review. And for that reason, this review is going to be split into two parts. This is the main review, and in the coming days I’ll be following it up with a more analytical (though still generally spoiler free) Review Companion piece.

If you know nothing about Birdman, you should just go see it. Close your laptop, turn off your phone, stop whatever it is you are doing and just get to the nearest theater where it’s playing. Going in blind isn’t really necessary here, but there’s no reason not to either. I went in knowing only that it was not an adaptation of Harvey Birdman (spoiler), and that made it especially fascinating for me. But to be honest, the things that I found fascinating probably won’t be the things you find fascinating. Really, there is so freaking much to talk about in this movie.

So let’s get into it. 

[This film was seen as part of our coverage of the 52nd New York Film Festival. It is being posted to coincide with the film's limited theatrical release]

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NYFF Review: Inherent Vice photo
NYFF Review: Inherent Vice
by Alec Kubas-Meyer

I’m not educated enough to have an intelligent conversation about Inherent Vice. I’m smart enough, but to seriously wrestle with what Paul Thomas Anderson’s adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s book is trying to do and say would require me to have A) Seen more of P. T. Anderson’s films, or B) Read more (read: any) of Pynchon’s books (perhaps even the source material itself), or C) Know more about the era in which the film takes place.

And so it’s taken me well over a week to write this review, because I simply didn’t know what to say. I wanted to deconstruct the film in some meaningful way, but I don’t feel qualified to do so.

What I can do, however, is consider just what it means to see (and generally enjoy) a film that I don’t understand. 

[For the next few weeks, Flixist will be covering the 52nd New York Film Festival. More information can be found here, and all of our coverage can be found here.]

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

I thought the good folks over at the NYFF were kidding when they described Whiplash as "Full Metal Jacket at Julliard." I've been burned by their film descriptions before, so I couldn't trust something that just sounded so brilliant. I mean, that's one hell of a pitch. But sticking with my rule of going into films blind, I left it at that. I didn't watch the trailer, nor did I seek out the short film that raised the money to fund the feature. I didn't even listen to "Whiplash."

But that pitch pulled me in. And much to my surprise, it's shockingly fitting. And to be honest, it's even better than it sounds.

[This review was originally posted as part of our coverage of the 52nd New York Film Festival. It is being reposted to coincide with the film's theatrical release.]

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Review: Dracula Untold photo
Review: Dracula Untold
by Matthew Razak

Everyone listen. I'm going to pretty much surprise the crap out of you because by writing the next sentence I'm surprising the crap out of myself. I enjoyed Dracula Untold. I know. You've probably just decided that maybe you don't want to trust my opinion anymore, but hear me out. 

Dracula Untold is a Universal monster movie. You know those old classics from back in the day that starred Dracula and the Wolfman and the Mummy. In fact they're making an entire film universe for those guys to star in. The point is that those movies were meant to be fun and kind of ridiculous and that is exactly what Dracula Untold is despite its many flaws.

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Review: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day photo
Review: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
by Matthew Razak

To start this will be the only time I am typing the full name of the movie: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. There, got that over with. From here on out we'll be referring to the film as Horrible, No. Everyone else is calling it Alexander so we'll be different.

Horrible, No is quite the surprise as from trailers you probably thought it was a bottom of the barrel adaptation of a classic children's book that Disney just threw a few actors at and dumped into the October slumps. You'd be wrong. While it isn't the most original film out there, it is one of the better family comedies put onto the screen in a while. The jokes may be a bit tired, but there pulled off with such aplomb and pluck that at the end of the day it all turns out good.

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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: Gone Girl photo
Review: Gone Girl
by Alec Kubas-Meyer

Gone Girl is the book of the moment. Much as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was The Big Thing when David Fincher adapted it for US screens, Gillian Flynn's novel seems to be ubiquitous. Everyone is reading it and talking about it, and those who aren't are certainly aware of its presence.

I expect this is partially because of the David Fincher adaptation. The book was released in 2012, and though it quickly hit the New York Times Best Seller List, I didn't hear about it until the announcement of its cinematic release. I considered reading it, but I never got around to it. (Flixist Editor-in-Chief Matt Razak has been hounding me to do so now, though, so I may pick it up.)

Walking around New York City, posters for the film are unavoidable. This adaptation is a big deal. The Big Book is about to be The Big Movie.

And it's going to get people talking.

[This review was originally posted as part of our coverage of the 52nd New York Film Festival. It has been reposted to coincide with the film's theatrical release.]

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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: Two Night Stand photo
Review: Two Night Stand
by Mike Cosimano

Is there nothing in this world more tiresome than movies about supposedly wise beyond their years, quirky, white, directionless youth philosophizing about the nature of sex/life/interpersonal relationships? I sure as hell can’t think of anything. Retreading this well-worn ground seems to be a rite of passage for indie filmmakers, to the point where I think we should have a separate genre; a veritable landfill for the express purpose of sequestering both this genre and those who actively seek them out.

Anyway, Two Night Stand isn’t very good.

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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: This is Where I Leave You photo
Review: This is Where I Leave You
by Matthew Razak

The dramatic family comedy. A staple in our modern day film scene. Throw is some folky pop music and a few stars and you've got yourself a big giant cliche ready for the theaters. There are ways to do it right, though. If you can pull your film out of melodrama and into actual emotion then you can hit the nail on the head. It happens.

It only half happened here. This Is Where I Leave You boldly teases at pushing its characters and feelings in interesting directions, but holds back far too much. It leaves us with a family dramedy that works on basic levels, but never transcends its genre. 

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Review: A Walk Among the Tombstones photo
Review: A Walk Among the Tombstones
by Matthew Razak

Looking back over Liam Neeson's career since Taken turned him into an action hero one could argue that he's basically made the same movie over and over. A vengeful individual in some sort of manly battle involving life and death. And, yes, that is a valid argument. But it also isn't. 

See, while Neeson's films have all been pushed the same way, they actually haven't all been that similar (both in tone and quality). From the outstanding The Grey too the awful Taken 2 Neeson has basically played around with the theme of the bad ass, elder hero in a variety of ways. Now they haven't always worked, but one thing remains consistent: Neeson is awesome. That pretty much describes A Walk Among the Tombstones perfectly. It doesn't always work, but Neeson is awesome.

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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: Tusk photo
Review: Tusk
by Sean Walsh

I have a long-standing history with Kevin Smith, dating back to high school when I first saw the erroneously named "Jersey Trilogy." When Red State came out in 2011, I was intrigued to see what Smith could do with both the horror genre and a parody of the always-awful Westboro Baptist Church. I was...underwhelmed, to the point where sharing the same room as the man whose films I could quote by heart was undesirable.

I was following Tusk with fairly mild curiosity until I saw the trailer (see below), and then found my curiosity going from mild to full-tilt. When we received the invite for an advance screening in NYC, I took my first-ever paid personal day, hopped a train, and went to see if the idol of my teen years still had it in him. 

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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 Pirates photo
Review: The Pirates
by Alec Kubas-Meyer

Every so often, a film comes along that completely shatters your expectations. You think you've got it figured out and then it throws a curveball. Then another. Then five more. Soon you realize you can't figure the film out and you have to just let it happen, because even hazarding a guess at what happens next will just make you look silly. It's rare for something so consistently bizarre to be released, and even rarer for it to be a blockbuster, even a foreign one.

But The Pirates is one of those films. And I'm still reeling from the impact.

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Review: The Drop photo
Review: The Drop
by Matthew Razak

The Drop is one of those little crime thrillers that comes out and no one really hears about it and you aren't sure why it was made. Possibly the studio thought it could grab some award love or something, but nothing is actually going to come out of it. This is too bad because Tom Hardy gives a performance that you could never see coming from the man.

The Drop sadly isn't up to its star's performance, but that only makes Hardy stand out more. There is nothing more fantastic than watching an actor completely embody a role. There are few things more upsetting than watching the movie surrounding it never match it.

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