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NYAFF Review: As the Light Goes Out photo
NYAFF Review: As the Light Goes Out
by Alec Kubas-Meyer

There’s something uniquely fascinating about firefighters. When they arrive on a scene, they aren’t armed to the teeth and ready to take down some villain; they are there to save lives. That’s pretty much their entire job. Whether that is by putting out fires so they don’t spread, running into burning buildings to find people trapped in the blaze, or bringing kittens down from high up branches so little old ladies don’t die from loneliness, they are there for the sole purpose of minimizing body count.

This doesn’t make them better than police officers or soldiers or other armed forces, but when the bad guy is thick smoke, no one is going to think about its family when it is ultimately taken down. No one feels bad for a fire. There is only the heroism of the people who stop it.

As the Light Goes Out taps into that heroism, although its portrayal of the people beneath the helmets isn’t always the most sympathetic.

[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.]

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NYAFF Review: Top Star photo
NYAFF Review: Top Star
by Alec Kubas-Meyer

When one of NYAFF's programmers introduced Top Star, he said that it was surprising that this was Park Joong-hoon's directorial debut. Park has worked as an actor in the Korean film industry for 28 years, but this is his first time behind the camera. Over the years, he has starred in around 40 films, and has clearly amassed a wealth of knowledge about both the life of an actor and also what goes into the production of a film. The programmer called its style impressive and confident, the kind of thing you only see after a filmmaker has hit their stride.

Written as a combination of fiction and fact from his own experiences and those of friends, it definitely feels like a project from a more established director. But Park himself prefaced the film by saying he's not really a fan. He says there are problems with it and he sees many places where it could have been improved.

While I think I liked it more than he did, I tend to agree.

[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.]

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Review: Tammy photo
Review: Tammy
by Matthew Razak

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. 

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Review: Particle Fever photo
Review: Particle Fever
by Alec Kubas-Meyer

I like physics. I probably have as good a grasp of the field as any film critic, and I frequently read articles about things like the Large Hadron Collider and the revelation of the mass of the Higgs Boson and how that revelation has impacted supersymmetry theory.

You've probably heard of the Large Hadron Collider (possibly as that thing that didn't actually destroy the world) and the Higgs Boson (sometimes called the God particle), but it's less likely that you know what supersymmetry (affectionately called SUSY) is. If you don't understand what I'm talking about, much of the science in Particle Fever is going to fly right over your head. 

But that doesn't mean you shouldn't see it. Because Particle Fever succeeds not because of its discussion of this particular science, but that of what science means and why it matters.

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Review: Begin Again photo
Review: Begin Again
by Matthew Razak

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. 

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NYAFF Review: Golden Chickensss photo
NYAFF Review: Golden Chickensss
by Alec Kubas-Meyer

In a world wracked by reboot culture, the decision to sequelize the Golden Chicken franchise is an interesting one. The first film and its sequel were released in 2002 and 2003 respectively, and then the series went dark. But eleven years later, a new director decided to revisit the protagonist as she has aged and changed. With an almost entirely new cast of characters, it feels like a different film than its predecessors. Like Kam, cinema has changed in the last eleven years. 

And maybe that’s the brilliance of making a sequel now. How better to really grapple with the idea of aging and a loss of place than to revive an old franchise with its lead intact? Even if that franchise is a raunchy sex comedy following the adventures of a prostitute.

[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.]

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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: Transformers: Age of Extinction photo
Review: Transformers: Age of Extinction
by Matthew Razak

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.

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

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.

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Review: Nothing Bad Can Happen photo
Review: Nothing Bad Can Happen
by Alec Kubas-Meyer

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.

But let's talk about why Tore dances.

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

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 maybejust maybeit could happen to you.

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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: 22 Jump Street photo
Review: 22 Jump Street
by Matthew Razak

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.

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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: The Fault in Our Stars photo
Review: The Fault in Our Stars
by Mike Cosimano

I did not enjoy John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. The narration was precocious and cloying, the dialogue simply ridiculous, and any attempts at pathos were laughable; a novel collectively written by the people behind those wretched Upworthy headlines. I still have it, because it wasn't even worth the energy it would have taken to sell it back.

Thankfully, Josh Boone’s adaptation is not quite as horrible. It trades mountains of burning trash for some of the most color-by-numbers direction I’ve ever seen. In that sense, it’s a major improvement on the source material, but a polished turd nevertheless smells just as rotten.

[Editor's Note: Check the bottom of this review for a second opinion from a writer who did enjoy this film's source material.]

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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: Edge of Tomorrow photo
Review: Edge of Tomorrow
by Matthew Razak

With Jupiter Ascending getting pushed back to February Edge of the Tomorrow might be the last of the original summer action movies left standing. Yes, it's an adaptation of a short Japanese novel, but that is still more original than the majority of sequels and and remakes taking up the rest of the summer. As such it had me very interested for it despite the lack of buzz.

It's also an insanely interesting concept. Basically you're getting Groundhog Day, but with mechs, aliens, Tom Cruise and Emily blunt. Throw in the underrated Doug Liman as director and you've got a movie that ten years ago would have been a tent pole, but instead is struggling for relevance. It shouldn't be because other than one tragic flaw it's an absolute blast. 

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Review: Rigor Mortis photo
Review: Rigor Mortis
by Alec Kubas-Meyer

In Hong Kong, vampires hop. The Jianshi (literally translated as "stiff corpse," but who cares about literal translations?) are undead creatures that, arms outstretched (not unlike our vision of Frankenstein's Monster) jump to get from place to place. It's more than a little ridiculous to consider, but that's the myth. In the mid to late 80s, the Mr. Vampire series took the Jiangshi legends and turned them into horror-comedy gold. It set off a craze that died down during the 90s and by the 2010s has been all but extinguished.

Except for Rigor Mortis, a new hopping vampire film that is a tribute to the good old days. But unlike those films, Rigor Mortis isn't funny. Not at all.

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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: Blended photo
Review: Blended
by Matthew Razak

Blended is Drew Barrymore and Adama Sandler's third movie together after The Wedding Singer and  50 First Dates. Evidently that's a thing now. Like they make a romantic comedy of sorts with each other every ten years. Because it's a thing we're supposed to think fondly of their return to the big screen.

The problem is that after Grown Ups and Grown Ups 2 it is physically impossible to think of Adam Sandler fondly anymore. He has spent and and all good will he's built up previously and now any movie starring him should be an instant red flag of suck. With the bar set so incredibly low is it actually a good thing to say that Blended is surprisingly not the worst movie ever? No, I suppose that's still a bad thing.

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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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