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Review: Detroit

Aug 04 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]221783:43719:0[/embed] DetroitDirector: Kathryn BigelowRelease Date: July 28, 2017 (Limited); August 4 (Nationwide)Rating: R It takes a while for you to realize that Detroit has main characters. The characters introduced in the aforementioned opening have no significance to the rest of the plot, and to some extent seem to exist primarily to show an African American police officer breaking things up. It's unique in the film. Aside from John Boyega's Dismukes, a security guard (his second job) who gets caught up in the whole thing and is referred to as an "Uncle Tom" for believing in the fundamental goodness of the police (for a while anyway), there isn't really anything like that. Once the riots are underway, white folks become the pretty clear enemy, and they stay that way from beginning to end. Spoiler: This is no white savior narrative. But before I get into that (and believe me, I'll get into that), it's worth discussing what Detroit is actually showing: war. Kathryn Bigelow's last two films, The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, were set in actual warzones, and this feels like a natural progression. The movie feels like it's documenting a war. The camera shakes in close up throughout, and it's disorienting and violent. It's a literally dizzying reflection of the feelings of its characters, the ones who eventually come to the forefront. As the riots progress, we begin to see some of the same faces over and over again, though we also see new ones who have little significance but add to the constant tension. But because of this, I genuinely wasn't sure if we would ever have a "protagonist." It's an ensemble film, so in a sense we don't, but the film does ultimately end up following one character in particular, and it wasn't the person I expected. (It's not a spoiler, but I'll leave it anyway.) The film's key sequence, when everything comes to a head and you finally learn what the movie is about, is the better part of an hour spent at the Algiers hotel. With an almost exclusively black clientele (minus a couple of white out-of-town women, whose presence is important for a whole host of reasons), it becomes the site for a disturbing case study in police brutality. After someone fires a starter pistol at police and the national guard on the streets, the hotel is swarmed. Now, considering this is a place with literal sniper fire, it makes sense that they would take a threat like that seriously. But what happens is more complicated than that. As a white guy, I'm not particularly concerned about or by the police. I feel safer with police around than I do when they aren't. I know that is not the case for everyone. I know some people feel the exact opposite way. They will walk out of Detroit and say, "Yeah, pretty much." (History has a habit of repeating itself.) But to someone like me, the film is a genuinely frustrating one. The characters, based on real people from stories about an actual event that took place during the riots. Its development was not unlike the one that begot Zero Dark Thirty, though the methods for information gathering on ZD30 are arguably suspect, what with its particular depiction of the use and efficacy of torture... but I'm getting off track. I trust the events as they are depicted in this film. Bits and pieces may well be fictionalized, as sometimes they must be, but it seems not only plausible but probable that something like this would happen. And that leads to a person who looks like me to feel really gosh darn conflicted. Because as the events occurred, nearly none of what happens "had" to happen. There was an "easy" way to deal with the police, who came in screaming and violently throwing people up against the wall. People could have told the truth, and I wanted to believe so badly that it would have made a difference. And the thing is, everyone was telling the truth, but no one was telling the whole truth. The not-real gun is mentioned only once; by that point, it's way too late.  But here's the thing: If I told the police what had happened, I have every reason to believe that they would trust me. And maybe that's foolhardy, but I genuinely think so. I also have every reason to believe that the men depicted in Detroit (and perhaps many police officers working today) wouldn't have believed them. If they said, "It was a toy gun and not a sniper rifle," would that have made a difference? Certainly they didn't seem to think so, otherwise they presumably would have brought it up in the first place. But even after the building is torn apart looking for a weapon and them finding nothing (including said starter pistol), do I think the whole truth would have saved anyone? No, not really. And that is infuriating. But as much as it's infuriating, I genuinely think it's vital. And I think it's particularly vital that white people watch it, because it's not a movie about them. White people are not the protagonists, and their experience isn't the focus; they exist primarily as foils to hammer all of this home. There's not a lot of that, certainly not enough of it, but unlike a film like Moonlight, this confronts whiteness. Get Out did that in a very different way, and it was critically acclaimed for that (and everything else about it). And it stirred up bullshit controversy from folks who didn't see it and claimed it was racist. Get Out took aim at the more subtle racism that pervades our modern society, whereas there's nothing subtle about the actions of the police in Detroit. But you know what? There's overt racism all over this country, bubbling barely underneath the surface. (Source: Seth Steven-Davidowitz's Everybody Lies) To really grapple with Detroit and what it portrays is not a pleasant thing. It dramatizes a barely historical version of the events that we see played out in the news all the time, and the inherently visceral nature of cinema (in comparison to police dash cam footage) makes you think. It makes you think about where we've been. It makes you think about where we are now. It makes you think about how far we've come, and how far we haven't. It makes you think about what the President of the United States said seven days ago. It makes you think about what the Justice Department has made moves towards doing earlier this week. And whether it ultimately changes anything or not, working to connect those dots and contemplate some truly unsettling conclusions is an important first step. It's certainly changed the way I approach certain things, as I think the past however many words has made clear. I have no doubt that parts of this review are problematic, and I only scratched the surface of everything this film brings up (regarding the aforementioned white women and John Boyega's characters in particular). And those are things I hope to talk about with people as they see the film (because they really, really should.). Detroit won't change the world. It won't fix racism or even put a chip into its armor. But maybe it can start a dialogue with people loathe to talk about these kinds of issues. I hope so.
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History, but not really
In the opening scene of Detroit, a large group of African Americans are rounded up and arrested en masse for having an indoor party; their crime: not having a liquor license, supposedly. They are put in the backs of...

Review: The Dark Tower

Aug 04 // Matthew Razak
[embed]221796:43721:0[/embed] The Dark TowerDirector: Nikolaj ArcelRelease Date: August 4, 2017Rated: PG-13 The Dark Tower is one of those movies that you're going to get a lot more out of if you've read the books despite the fact that it is really only loosely based on them at all. There are hints and allusions to bigger things that readers will pick up on, but much of the massive quest that Roland (Idris Elba), Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) and their ka-tet (those bound by fate) go on in the books as they confront the Man in Black/Walter (Matthew McConaughey) is missing. The film pieces together key parts here and there, dropping entire characters in what feels like an attempt to put much of the quest into a 90 minute running time.  In our world we find Jake having dreams of the Dark Tower and the Man in Black/Walter, a powerful wizard who can kill simply by telling people to stop breathing. He is nigh-invulnerable and more akin to a comic book super villain than the mysterious trickster of the books. Using the "shine" of children kidnapped from the many worlds that are all connected by the tower, Walter is attempting to destroy it in order to let the blackness in from the outside. Enter the gunslingers of Mid-World, of which Roland is the last one. His sole quest is to kill Walter in order to get revenge for the death of his father and the fall of his homeland Gilead. Eventually Jake, who is gifted with the most powerful amount of shine ever, finds his way into Mid-World and the two set off on a universe-hopping quest to stop Walter. That, my friends, is the least complicated way of explaining the plot that the film has attempted to cram into a 90 minutes. There's a lot of lore and other items that get shoved in here and there too, but instead of opening up the story all the different themes and myths make it more obtuse and unfocused. As a reader of the books I understood a lot of the background that was going on and where ideas came from, but coming from an outside perspective it must feel more like idea vomit -- a bunch of tropes pushed onto the screen one after the other. It makes for a flat film that peaks the few times it focuses on its characters and not the world. Those characters do work, but thanks to the limited running time we never really get to know them. Idris Elba's gunslinger shows hints of the depth behind his fantastically stoic front, but he's never able to turn it into anything thanks to the movie heavily focusing on the far less interesting Jake and overplaying Walter. McConaughty is fantastically slimy as the wizard/magician/evil-person, and a far better choice of casting than I thought he would be, but instead of an air of mystery about the character they turn him into a big bad that plays generic. Taylor meanwhile plays Jake well enough for a child actor, but as the linchpin for the film his character feels more like a McGuffin than an actual person.  This isn't all to say that The Dark Tower is a bad movie, but instead of the tent pole of a large franchise it feels like a half-baked standalone. In that light it could be seen as a moderate success, delivering some interesting concepts here and there. Roland's gun fighting shines every so often as interesting, and Walter's ability to have people do anything he wants is played up for effect pretty well. The action itself is pretty interesting, but limited as well. Roland's expertise with the six-shooters delivers some memorable moments, but Arcel can't piece together a coherent enough action sequence to make anything truly stand out. There's things that work here, just not in a big picture way. They work in a single scene way. Walter's nearly unlimited super powers are a great example of this. They seem immeasurable and unstoppable, which makes for some enjoyably evil scenes, but on the whole make more of a mess. They raise questions about why a man who can hurl massive chunks of buildings that could easily crush our hero doesn't do just that the second he wants to. Roland is supposedly a bit immune to Walter's magic, but he's clearly not immune to being crushed, stabbed, or run over by large objects, which in turn are not immune to Walter's ability to hurl them through the air at Roland.   This leads directly to the biggest issue the film may have. Since Walter is turned into a super villain instead of the enigmatic torturer of Roland he no longer acts as a convincing foil. The great metaphorical duel between the two characters is nothing more than a shootout since the film doesn't spend any time developing the cat and mouse game it wants the two to be playing. There is no true tension there. Roland and Jake's relationship is a bit better, with the replacement father/son story line giving charm to the two, but it again often feels forced thanks to the movie's breakneck pace to get to its conclusion. I do have to applaud the film for avoiding a direct adaptation. While King's first book in the series could have maybe kind of been turned into a film it would have been a mess from there out. Instead The Dark Tower takes a cue from the books and presents the story as the last time around the wheel (another reference fans will love, but newcomers won't understand). It's a good move that means the film (and still in the works TV show) can forge their own path that isn't bound by the idiosyncrasy of the books, and if the movie was anything other than dull it could have worked. I stress this because I'm not upset that the film isn't like the books, but that it isn't that good on its own. The Dark Tower series has some magic in its world that is engrossing, but this movie can't find it. It's not an issue with ignoring the source material, it's an issue of making a good movie. 
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The elevator pitch of an epic
If you've read Stephen King's prolific Dark Tower saga you know it's a weird, wonderful, flawed, brilliant, mess of an epic that touches so many genres it's hard to classify it at all. It bounces from western to sci...

Review: Atomic Blonde

Jul 28 // Matthew Razak
[embed]221777:43713:0[/embed] Atomic BlondeDirector: David LeitchRelease Date: July 28, 2017Rated: R Atomic Blonde definitely comes from the same school as John Wick. It's director, David Leitch, is a stuntman turned director (he'll be helming Deadpool 2 as well) and it involves a trained killer who is better at their job than anyone else. The kind of action hero who can easily dispatch a group of henchman quickly and easily. From there things are different. Atomic Blonde unfolds in Berlin the week before the wall comes tumbling down. As such it is cram full of double crosses, unreliable narrators, and complex plot points. We find British secret agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) being sent off to Berlin after an important list full of all of Britain's spies falls into a corrupt Russian spy's hands. Lorraine meets up with David Percival (James McAvoy) in Berlin to solve what's happened. Of course no one is what they seem, twists and turns abound, and at one point or another you'll be scratching your head because the plot isn't making sense... yet. Like any good spy thriller (and the graphic novel the film is based on) Atomic Blonde plays its cards close to its chest. And like any bad spy film Atomic Blonde thinks its a bit more clever than it actually is. It lands somewhere in the middle of greats like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and needlessly complex messes like Mission: Impossible 2. Some of its turns make complete sense, and the film's structure help deliver them wonderfully, while at other points the plot seems forced, with direction only confusing the mess. The best spy films leave you realizing that you could have seen it all along if you'd been paying attention, but Atomic Blonde's story is delivered without enough panache to do this. It all leads to a plot that feels like it has a few too many endings, and not enough actual resolution. Thankfully, almost every other aspect of the film makes up for this. We can start with the fights and the action sequences, which are savage to the point of cruelty. The very first hit in this movie is a man getting a stiletto heel to the neck (a fantastic wink to the bucking of the normal gender of action heroes), and it just gets more brutal from there on out. Every punch, hit, kick, gunshot, crash, slap, and stab feels as painful as it actually is. This isn't James Bond where a ten minute fist fight leaves him looking fresh as daisies. These fights land blows and they leave their combatants gasping for air, staggering around and eventually dead. A positively ferocious stairwell fight scene tumbles into an apartment then out onto a street and then into a car chase, all in "one" camera shot and over the course of 20 minutes or so. It's probably the best action sequence I've seen since The Raid 2. The fights alone make this movie worthwhile. However, Leitch actually has an eye for direction outside of fisticuffs as well. The almost hyper-sexuality of the film is handled in ways that don't feel exploitative thanks to direction that makes everything feel matter of fact, and while the plot is complex and often does no favors to itself he at least keeps the scenes coherent. He may lose the overall picture at times, but from scene to scene things work. There's a wonderfully 80s feel to the way he shoots and lights everything, with a glowing neon color scheme infusing half the film, and dull greys dominating the other so as to visually represent the pull between the crime and drug fueled east with the totalitarianism west. Leitch's direction is a hell of a lot smarter than many are going to give him credit for even if he can't keep the film's story feeling clever. And then there is Theron, who plays her role with a cool, steely iciness that you rarely see in female characters, in or out of action films. Even in brutal fight sequences that have her character bleeding and near death she seems in complete control. There's no questioning her ability to take on even the largest, most "manly" opponent because that's not the character and that's not how Theron plays it. Much like her Imperator Furiosa, Theron imbues her character with an awesome that makes you think not about her sex, but about how much of a badass she is. It helps she did the majority of her own fights as well, and doesn't look out of place doing them. It lets Leitch keep his camera still for the most part instead of cutting constantly to mask inefficiencies in her ability.  Atomic Blonde is definitely worth seeing if that's all you're wondering. It's a great action movie, and a decent enough spy thriller. When it falters the action is there to pick it up even if it sometimes takes a bit of time to get to said action. We may not have a new classic on our hands, but there's 20 straight minutes of action in here that should go down in cinematic history.  
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Charlize Theron can fight
Atomic Blonde looks like one of those scrappy little action flicks that has a slow burn of success. Think of things like John Wick or Taken. Films that succeed because they're cram full of action and their...

Review: The Emoji Movie

Jul 28 // Drew Stuart
The Emoji Movie tells the tale of Gene, a 'meh' emoji who unbeknownst to his fellow emoji's in Textopolis, can experience more than one emotion. Unfortunately, when he's called upon to make his 'meh' face at the users request, he freaks out and makes the wrong face. Gene is then forced out of Textopolis, and embarks on a quest with his buddy Hi-5 and hacker Jailbreak to become normal like all the other emoji's. The setup is trite from the very beginning, and becomes more mundane the further along the story progresses. You already know all of the beats; our characters form a plan to solve their problems, the villain sends a force to stop them, they clash, one of the characters gets separated from them, the main character decides to rescue them instead of heading straight for their goal, blah blah blah. I could go on, but it's honestly not necessary; if you've seen a kids movie in the last 20 years, then you've seen The Emoji Movie. I've heard some people say that The Emoji Movie borrows steals lot of ideas from Inside Out, and that's just not true. Emoji also rips several ideas from Toy Story, The Lego Movie, and even Shrek. Situations are recreated almost verbatim from these movies, only serving to bore and annoy the audience even further. And it's not like Emoji needs any help with that; the humor and is so atrocious that I almost feel guilty calling this film a comedy. Here's what the 'comedy' amounts to; emoji's simply calling each other by their emoji names, or acting slightly different to each other depending on what emoji they are. That's really it. There's no humor that's so bad it becomes funny, or dialogue that you can ridicule. I didn't hear a single laugh from any of the children in the theater. Nothing. This movie is shamelessly hackneyed and vapid; it cannot be laughed at because it can't understand that it's being made fun of. It is impervious to snide criticism and witty retorts. All you can do is embrace The Emoji Movie, before shoving a pillow into its face. Without comedy, and without plot, the element that is thrust into the forefront of the viewers minds is the concept. And if you'd like me to elaborate on that, now's the time where I'd like to inform all the passengers along for today's flight that, as the title entails, this is in fact a review for The Emoji Movie, and you should be well aware by now that the concept is, on it's face, a bad one. I understand the motive behind it; The Lego Movie made more dough than a Three-Star michelin bakery, and Sony wants a piece of that pie, but it isn't gonna happen with something like Emoji's. The reason being that kids and adults alike adore Legos for their inherent creativity and playful, easy design, which incidentally lends itself incredibly well to a kids movie based around the theme of creativity and being yourself. The other reason being that no one cares about emoji's. Trying to make an emoji movie is such a blatant consumerism-driven cash-grab that I'm astounded Sony had the balls to even try it. Hell, in the opening narration, the movie acknowledges that emoji's only exist because people suck, specifically because they're lazy and don't want to type out their complete thoughts in a text message. So why would anyone even consider making a movie like this? I don't know. The point is, the concept of an emoji-based movie sucks.  Now, here's a weird bit of criticism I never thought I would have to say aloud: Did the entire cast phone in their performances? Sure, you might know that T.J. Miller, Steven Wright and Patrick Stewart were coaxed into this movie, but did you know that, *ahem*, Anna Faris, James Corden, Maya Rudolph, Jennifer Coolidge, Christina Aguilera, Sofia Vergara and more lend their voices to this project? No? Neither did I, until I glimpsed the cast list as I sulked out of the theater. Why do none of these people sound like themselves? Why even hire them if their voices are that unrecognizable? I just don't know. On top of the terrible plot, the terrible concept, and the terrible acting, all of the sensory elements in this movie suck too. The animation lacks any style or visual flair, (as is to be expected) but worse is how little detail there is in the animation. There are points where characters look blurry or unfinished, and nearly all of the backgrounds are painfully copied and pasted as needed. You can see this quite plainly if you compare the trailers to the movie; there are scenes in the trailer that occur in other settings in the final cut of the movie. It feels borderline amateur. Even worse has got to be the music. You'd think that Sony with all of it's music rights would plug today's pop-radio garbage into The Emoji Movie, but that's not the case. Instead, they plugged 2012's pop-radio garbage into The Emoji Movie. Did Sony not believe in this movie either? Why does this exist? Why am I here? You don't need me to tell you this movie is terrible. Just look at it. Some asshole at Sony actually thought this would be a good idea, and somehow convinced a bunch of other assholes to make this putrid movie. The Emoji Movie was farted into existence for the express purpose of seeing if they could do it. And now we all have to sit in its stink. 
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To live is to suffer
You know, for the longest time I thought that this movie was a joke. Something invented by film producers to have a laugh. A prank that writers bounced around, but never dared to seriously consider, lest their career be stamp...


The Next Bond film is slated for 2019

Jul 25 // Drew Stuart
That leaves the director. Who should needs to direct this film? Well, if you've been paying attention to Matt, you know that Christopher Nolan would be a dream come true, though getting Nolan to sign on for Craig's final film seems easier said than done to both of us. Nolan isn't a director who waits for a film to come to him, and while he's certainly not afraid to helm a franchise (just look at his Batman trilogy,) reserving him for the films would likely take some planning ahead. Still, I've no doubt that whoever directs this next Bond film will be talented, willing and able to deliver an excellent movie.  [via Twitter]
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'Craig' open a cold one with the boys
There's been some confusion lately over the role of James Bond; who will play him, and most of all, when he'll reappear on the silver screen. With things slowly taking shape behind the scenes, us fans have been left most...

Review: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets

Jul 24 // Drew Stuart
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is, once boiled down, a sci-fi adventure. The story is set in the 28th century, where humanity has created a gigantic metropolis in space known as Alpha. Over hundreds of years, aliens from all over the galaxy have come there to thrive and prosper, creating a cornucopia of cultures that mingle with each other every day. Alpha is home to everyone, and the heart of Valerian is exploring this strange world with our main characters, the titular Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and his partner Laureline (Cara Delevigne). The problem with Valerian is how they explore it. The plot has our two agents racing against time to stop an ever-expanding radiation zone at Alpha's core, but that sense of urgency is seldom felt in the actual plot. There are chases, sure, but they have no tension. There's a mystery, but if you're paying attention even slightly, you'll know exactly where the story is going after 20 minutes. The driving point of the plot is supposed to be mystery, but it completely deflates once the movie starts rolling. The best aspect of Valerian is the world, and I'm sure that sentiment will be shared amongst anyone who sees this movie, whether they thought it was good or bad. There's a scene early on that depicts the genesis and growth of Alpha, and is one of my favorite intros of 2017. It's humorous and magical, friendly and dazzling. The various creatures and aliens on Alpha are diverse and interesting, taking that nuanced world-building from Star Wars and executing it with style. Yet, that's about all that Valerian seems to get right. Nearly every other aspect is fundamentally flawed, and I wish that were an exaggeration. Take our leading actors for example. Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevigne have both given their worst performances in their careers in Valerian. No, I'm not exaggerating. DeHaan is in no way a believable federal agent, and his gruff mumbling throughout the film makes the whole thing feel like a fan-film. He's painted as a ladies man at the beginning of Valerian and I nearly burst out laughing when Delevigne referred to him as a 'lady killer'. It's like pointing to a turd and calling it Toblerone; good for a laugh, but I'll be damned if you try and get me to swallow it. I just couldn't stomach the blatant wish-fulfillment when the lead is far from being suave or charismatic in the slightest. Delevigne has never actually given a good performance on film before, but in Valerian her acting stands out as particularly cardboard-esque. Seriously, look at any of these images I have in this review and behold the only face she makes on camera. What makes these performances even worse is that Valerian and Laureline are supposed to be attracted to each other, and they seem anything but. Their interactions are stiff and stale, and even the dialogue they share is poorly written. Kids might be able to get behind these characters, but if you have a fully developed brain then you're in for a sore experience. As I mentioned earlier, the plot is also all over the place. It's flimsy and dull, failing to interest the viewer in the central mystery presented likely due to how obvious the outcome is. The film opens by almost completely explaining the events that are 'revealed' later on at the climax of Valerian, and yet pretends like the audience didn't see what happened. This, combined with some clumsy foreshadowing and telegraphing by the villain spell out the plot for the rest of the film, leaving little to enjoy besides the beautifully designed world. And, call me crazy, but Valerian seems to know this, considering that it takes significant breaks from the plot for trivial side-stories. There's a point midway through where the film drops the little momentum it had to rescue Laureline from some bumbling space creatures. This sequence is pretty to look at, and has moments of fun sprinkled here and there, but serves no purpose whatsoever. In the end, this section of the movie only makes it more painful once our heroes return to the story at hand. Look, I don't hate Valerian. It's a beautiful film, with amazing CG and a set-piece or two that are fun on the surface level. The world it's set in is captivating and unique, something that is so rare today in Hollywood. But no movie has ever become great just by looking good; the plot, the dialogue, the characters need to be written well so the films stunning display can create synergy between the narrative and the visuals. This is how a great sci-fi adventure film is made, and it's something that Besson has completely forgotten how to do with Valerian. Visuals are in service to the writing, and Besson put the cart in front of the horse on this one. The image of Alpha floating in space, filled with interesting creatures and civilizations is incredible, but with a couple of boring humans taking up most of the runtime, you'd be better off watching the trailer and moving on.
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Such a well polished turd.
Luc Besson may not be a household name, but ask any fan of film who he is and you’ll be swept into a drawn-out lauding of his movies. Besson directed both The Fifth Element and Leon: The Professional, both of which foun...

Justice League photo
What world am I living in right now?
Justice League is in the middle of a huge mess right now. DC Comics and Warner Bros. are tooling and re-tooling elements, Ben Affleck was almost phased out of the Batman role (before confirming he'd be staying on), and the fi...

Jodie Whittaker will play Doctor Who's Thirteenth Doctor

Jul 16 // Drew Stuart
[embed]221714:43664:0[/embed] This news has me optimistic about the future of Doctor Who. Not only will we get a talented new Doctor, but Chris Chibnall, the creator of the excellent crime series Broadchurch (which Whittaker had a prominent role in) will be usurping Steven Moffat as showrunner. Hopefully, the influx of new talent and a shake up in direction will keep the show fresh for years to come. And Whittaker will lead the way.  [via Twitter]
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Doctor Doctor, give me the news
If you're a 'hip' kid like me, then you may have heard that the BBC announced a new Doctor was on the way for their long-running show Doctor Who. And on Sunday, they revealed on their Twitter that the new Doctor wou...

Review: War for the Planet of the Apes

Jul 14 // Nick Valdez
[embed]221622:43616:0[/embed] War for the Planet of the ApesDirector: Matt ReevesRelease Date: July 14th, 2017Rated: PG-13 Years after the events of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Caesar (Andy Serkis) is still struggling with his role in the death of his former friend and rival Koba. With the apes retreating to the forest, the last remnants of humanity have taken a more aggressive approach (sparked by Koba's attack on them years prior) led by the militant extremist, Colonel (Woody Harrelson). When Colonel crosses the line and threatens his family, Caesar decides to travel across the states to hunt down the Colonel and get his revenge.  First things first, War is absolutely gorgeous. Somehow improving on the visuals found in the second film, War gives us flair like snowy fur, wet fur, and several visually distinct settings. This film can often be dark (both figuratively and literally), yet the lighting is kept at such a balance each motion captured ape is still distinct when sitting in caves or walking around during night scenes. And although we've seen it in action two films prior, the motion capture animation is still sublime. Serkis' Caesar is, with just cause, a standout above the rest as Caesar now more closely resembles the intelligent apes found in the 70s films. I personally miss the broken English he spoke in the previous film, but a Caesar without stilted dialogue allows Serkis to evolve the character with a more nuanced performance outside of physical acting.  Each film in this modern Apes trilogy has had its own distinct flavor. Rise has an undercurrent of dread, constantly inching its way toward the expected uprising, Dawn is a clash of violence and ideologies as the new status quo is established, and War is the methodical denouement in which the stage is set for the Planet of the Apes story everyone is familiar with. Because of this, unfortunately, this film has more of a pacing issue than the others. Essentially becoming a revenge thriller as Caesar morphs into an one-ape army, War sort of meanders through the second act until the thread for the final act reveals itself. This slower pace seems entirely intentional as Caesar's revenge arc lacks any satisfactory developments. But regardless of how this deliberately slower act reflects Caesar's core growth toward the end of the trilogy, and conveying Caesar's loss of hope and direction, I can't help but think a brisker pace would make the tone of the eventual ape escape less jarring. If all this talk of a slower, character intensive piece scares you away, no need to worry. I'm not going to go into depth about it here, but there's a extended prison break scene and it's probably the best thing in this entire trilogy. While War loses the grey morality of the previous two films as one side is a clear cut villain -- thus losing a bit of the nuance of the rest of the trilogy -- having a side to truly root for improves the trilogy overall. It's sort of freeing, actually. The tone of the film gets a more lighthearted spin once Bad Ape (Steve Zahn, pictured below) is introduced and the pacing problems of the second act melt away completely. The final third of the film is fun, has quite a bit of metaphorically intriguing imagery, and brings the trilogy to a close in a splendid way.  When all was said and done, I couldn't believe how this trilogy pulled it off. It's rare you'll get one well made reboot film, let alone an entire trilogy. The Apes trilogy has always been a sleeper hit these past few Summers, and because of the smaller attention, Matt Reeves was able to keep a steady vision for the final two films without much interference. War for the Planet of the Apes is a "blockbuster" in name only, and because of this was able to make the many brave choices it does. I mean, it's a film trilogy about monkey business which also includes death, hardship, disease, mediation between warring states, post-traumatic stress disorder, class struggles, and even some poop flinging for good measure.  I'm hard pressed to think of a better modern trilogy, or one that isn't one of the big five (Star Wars, Indiana Jones, The Godfather, The Lord of the Rings, and Back to the Future), that could measure up to this. War of the Planet of the Apes is the finest end to a trilogy I've seen in a long time. 
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Ape Escape
Combing through nostalgic culture has become the norm, and unfortunately, so have the middling resulting projects. Audiences have, sadly, come to expect reboots to suffer as studios struggle to re-capture what made something ...

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How big is the dump truck full of money?
After Spectre came out Daniel Craig was not too kind to the chances of him ever playing Bond again. The role is an incredible amount of pressure and the shooting is often stressful so he had some choice words about retur...

Review: Castlevania (Season1)

Jul 08 // Nick Valdez
[embed]221685:43647:0[/embed] Castlevania (Season 1)Director: Sam DeatsRating: NRRelease Date: July 7th, 2017 (Netflix) When the religious town of Wallachia burns Dracula's (Graham McTavish) wife at the stake, he promises to return after a year with an army from hell and smite all of them. Jumping a year ahead we meet Trevor Belmont (Richard Armitage), the last remnant of a monster hunting family. Trevor's pretty much sick of the entire thing. He's lost faith in people after his family was betrayed, and couldn't care less about the monster attacks. But when he's inadvertently thrown into the action by a secret society of magicians, Trevor finds himself in a bigger battle than he ever could've imagined.  Castlevania's first season is less a television show and more like one of those direct to home video animated films you'd expect to see from the likes of DC Comics or Marvel Studios. Usually I'm not one to complain about the length of a series in reviews, but the four twenty-something minute episodes (nice) essentially act as a lengthy pilot for the actual series. This is fine in concept, but it also cripples these first episodes. It makes sense for Netflix's distribution style, which argues that each show should be binged, but it's not like each episode stands on its own. Rather than episodes having a clear cut beginning, middle, and end, there's only enough time for the general arc of the "season" to carry any weight. It's no help to the series either that the entire plot is predictable (even complete with a big boss fight at the end). There's definitely a feeling here that this season would've been better served without being chopped up into parts.  But even without much to invest in from episode to episode, the other benefit of being a two hour pilot means it's brisk and light. This lightness allows the characters to bask in Castlevania's pulpy vibe, but it's definitely hard to take anything seriously yet. For example, Trevor is a fine main character. He's the standard too cool for school protagonist, and Ellis clearly had a fun time writing for him, but the most intriguing stuff is still a ways away. I'm more interested in what eventually brought Trevor to his low point at the start of the series, and that drama won't be evolved further until the next season, if at all. As a result, he feels thin. There's just simply not enough time to take him further than grizzled warrior archetypes. While he's definitely fun to watch now, it's completely forgettable without anything really juicy to latch onto.  Castlevania's animation isn't great, and is particularly janky when characters are talking to one another, but is ultimately serviceable. There's a nice flow to the action scenes even as the backgrounds tend to fade into oblivion during them. The fights themselves seem particularly anime influenced as one fight toward the end of the season is accompanied by too familiar sword swooshes (the technical term, yes) and angles reminiscent of other shows. Trevor's character design is unfortunately the only one with any kind of personality, but it's not saved by the overall flatness of the art as a whole. But, once again, since this is only a pilot, I'm sure there's room for betterment in the future.  Given how short of a season Netflix's Castlevania is, chances are you've seen it by the time you read this review. If you haven't, however, it's a very easy show to recommend...for now. I wouldn't exactly say it's for everyone since those who don't like the Castlevania games won't get anything of note out of this, but like Shankar's bootleg productions, it's a series made by a fan for other fans.  With that in mind, I do worry this series cannot hold up with a longer structure. This first season is a good watch mainly because it's over before any of its faults truly make a dent. Just as how Shankar's Bootleg Universe shorts seem great as five minute pieces, the minute you really stop to think about the ideas therein ruins the experience. 
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That's four! Four episodes! Ha-ha-ha!
Adi Shankar is quite a cult hit in film circles. He's made a name for himself by fully investing into properties he loves. It's a nerdy demeanor that's absolutely infectious as its led to his famous "Bootleg Universe," in whi...

Review: Despicable Me 3

Jun 30 // Nick Valdez
[embed]221638:43623:0[/embed] Despicable Me 3Directors: Eric Guillon, Kyle Balda, and Pierre CoffinRelease Date: June 30th, 2017Rated: PG After failing to capture former child star turned supervillain Balthasar Bratt (Trey Parker), Gru (Steve Carell) loses his job at the Anti-Villain League. While he's trying to figure out what to do with his life next, his long lost twin brother Dru (Steve Carell) contacts him and tells him about their family's villainous legacy. Now Gru has to decide whether or not to please his minions and commit crimes or do what's best for his family. Also his family is there doing a thing each because that's all there's time for this go around, and the minions are farting around in a prison or something. You can basically take the old "long-lost relative" TV trope and copy/paste its plot here and you'll get the gist.  When a TV show resorts to a long-lost relative plot featuring some guest star, it usually means the show is out of organic ideas and has to force in another entity in order to breathe any kind of life into its husk. It's like continuing impassioned CPR when the person you're trying to save is already gone. Every movement you make is futile, and you're only doing damage to their body. Sitting through Despicable Me 3 parallels this hopelessness all too well. It's made worse by the film's constant allusions to comedies of cinema past. At one point, the Minions are driving underwater and speed past two clownfish that look like Finding Nemo's Marlin and Nemo, only pouring salt into the wound. It was a grim reminder that I could've seen something else, and knowing I still had another 80 minutes to go only exacerbated my apathy.  But so what if I slowly fell asleep, what about the kids? Didn't they enjoy the funny funnies? Well, they did not. I not only noticed a huge group of kids shuffling around in their seats during the super potent Minion rendition of "I Am the Very Modern Major General" from the very timely referenced 1800s opera The Pirates of Penzance, but also saw how they failed to react when the Minions went to prison. But alas, we were all trapped in Despicable Me 3's prison together. At least the kids were still treated as human beings and got brief reprieves from this comedic wasteland every time a Minion made a fart or said boobs or something. I have to admit, even I laughed when the Minions ended up being super successful in prison and acted like some gang from a 50s musical. But was that a laugh out of pure necessity? Did I force myself to react in order to re-affirm my humanity? Then soon, I realized I made myself sick drinking so much out of this small oasis of humor in my perilously dry journey.  One has to wonder how much this cast is getting paid for keeping this farce going. Trey Parker is slightly entertaining as he portrays yet another manchild, but he's clearly just cashing a check here. Steve Carell, bless him, is the one gleaming hope in this dark world and gets the space to emotionally play around with Grudru once the Minions and the family are out of the picture. Seriously, I think Gru interacts with his family, like, twice? It's very odd considering where the series began. As for the rest of the family, the girls are all still cute as ever but they're not given anything meaty to do. Stuck repeating past catchphrases and forever glued to the same age they were seven years ago. Wait, it's only been seven years and we've gotten four of these movies? And Minions 2 is coming out soon also?  I...I just can't do this anymore.  Look, if you're reading this review you're not going to give a shit about what I write here and go see this anyway because you think the Minions are cute. It's fine, I get it. The Minions are oversaturated on the Internet, playing parts in memes with everything from how bad Mondays are to abortion. With how prevalent they've become, it's impossible to not buy into them at this point. So honestly, does it really matter how I end this? I put more thought here than anything Despicable Me 3 had to offer me, so I'll just leave you with one of my favorite quotes in the film.  *fart noise* 
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Kill m3
Despicable Me was a revelation when it first hit theaters. A villain choosing fatherhood over his proclivity for evil deeds was a novel idea, and it was much more than the minion flavored marketing would have you believe. The...

Review: Spider-Man: Homecoming

Jun 29 // Nick Valdez
[embed]221639:43619:0[/embed] Spider-Man: HomecomingDirector: Jon WattsRelease Date: July 7th, 2017Rated: PG-13 Spider-Man: Homecoming isn't concerned with re-telling Peter Parker's origin story. Instead, we're introduced to a Peter (Tom Holland) that's already been established around his borough of Queens, NY. But after getting a taste of Avenger-like action during Civil War, Peter's been anxious to fight some big time crime. Stumbling on Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton)'s band of thieves powered by alien technology (left behind after The Avengers), Peter's out to prove to his mentor Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) that he can handle it. But the 15 year old Peter finds he struggles with balancing his Spider-Man duties, school life with his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon), love life, and home life with his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei).  The Homecoming subtitle is both a play on Peter's newfound high school age, and a "homecoming" to the MCU. With how prevalent Downey Jr.'s Iron Man was featured in advertising, I was worried poor little Peter would take a backseat to all of The Avengers craziness. We've seen the result of universe building bogging down some of the Marvel properties, but thankfully Homecoming doesn't concern itself with that too much either. The events of the MCU proper have informed some of the character motivations for sure, as Adrian gets his villainous start after the Battle of NY, but there's been a great effort to ground Spider-Man in his own little pocket of the world. Thus, Homecoming is free to not only tell its story at its own pace, but isn't afraid to explore Peter as a character.  Director Jon Watts takes great pains to make Homecoming feel more intimate. From the opening scene featuring Peter's video diary, to the pacing of conversations between characters, there are plenty of scenes given time to breathe and fully flesh out the film's extended cast. Tom Holland is a dream, and his awkward yet full-hearted take on the hero is much different than we've seen in the past. Holland portraying a teenage Peter is not only believable, but incredibly refreshing. When Holland's Peter jokes around, or accidentally saves the day, it always comes across as natural. Because of this, the threats to him become even more engrossing as a literal child is now fighting to save his loved ones. It's a tonal balance we've yet to see from Spider-Man, and I'm very curious as to where it can go from here.  But it's not like Holland steals the show, either. Homecoming has an incredible cast, and the script is laid out so every character has time to shine. Michael Keaton playing a birdman after, well, Birdman, may be ripe for jokes, but Keaton's soft spoken menace gives him a presence we've yet to see from other MCU villains. Spider-Man's villains are probably the most famous in Marvel Comics, so it feels so right to see Keaton stake his claim. Adrian is complex, has a reasonable motivation, and seems better written overall than a good chunk of Marvel's other baddies. Peter's classmates are all fabulous as well. Zendaya shines as a brilliant loner, Tony Revolori's Flash is the right kind of bully, it's great to see Jon Favreau's Happy Hogan again, and Jacob Batalon's Ned is so damn adorable I can't wait to see him again. The cast is just so well put together, and Queens has such a lived in feel, Homecoming absolutely nails the "neighborhood" in "Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man." We haven't experienced Spider-Man like this before.  And, uh, Marisa Tomei is a goddess and I'm so glad Homecoming addresses the shift in Aunt May's age.  Now Spider-Man: Homecoming isn't a perfect film, as the plot tends to get lost during the deliberate pacing of the second act, and it's still an origin story thematically, but it's still entirely successful. I mean, we finally get an action scene that isn't about fighting a bad guy, but saving people. I can't believe that hasn't happened yet. Even if I'm reviewing Homecoming in the comic book movie bubble, I feel like this world is so well established that the film's weakness are a reflection of its central character.  This new Peter is flawed, but attacks his flaws head on. Homecoming has so much fun just living and swinging with Spider-Man, it's hard not to accept those flaws and just go with the swing of things. Spider-Man has come home, and I can't wait to see what Sony and Marvel do with him next. 
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Third time's the charm
Spider-Man films have been through all sorts of ups and downs. What was once the biggest comic book property on film has since been the victim of studio craziness, failed attempts, and just an overall bad reception by th...

Review: Baby Driver

Jun 28 // Matthew Razak
[embed]221653:43629:0[/embed] Baby DriverDirector: Edgar WrightRated: RRelease Date: June 28, 2017 Don't worry. Baby Driver isn't a musical in the traditional sense. It doesn't have characters breaking out in song and spiraling into wild, Busby Berkley style dance numbers (unless you count car chases as dance numbers). Instead, it features Baby (Ansel Elgort), an expert driver who is forced into being the driver on a series of heists by Doc (Kevin Spacey). Through a series of events, Baby tries to pull himself away from a life of crime while falling for Debora (Lily James), a charming waitress he meets at a diner. The plot itself is a little thin, but that's because it's not really the point. What Wright wants to do with this film is turn soundtrack into character; make a film that flows as well as its soundtrack. It's a bold effort, and it makes the soundtrack the leading star. It's an absolutely fantastic soundtrack that runs the gamut from classic rock to modern rap, each song cued up with the film's editing and action. The excuse is that Baby has tinnitus so he's always listening to music to get rid of the ringing. What that results in is car chases cued wonderfully to songs, entire scenes edited to the beat of whatever Baby is listening to, and a soundtrack that often informs the film more than anything else going on on screen. It also means that every character is defined by the music, every choice bent around what's playing. Even the dialog is often a diatribe on the meaning of music to people, and in that aspect the film is endlessly interesting. Wright's direction of the action is just as interesting. His shots and editing go beyond coherent, which is a base we shouldn't have to applaud, but will thanks to having just seen The Last Knight. He weaves together brilliant plot, music, and real driving into some masterful sequences. The first 20 minutes of this movie are an almost perfect execution of Wright's "car chase musical" idea form the opening beats featuring “Bellbottoms” by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion to the first moment that Baby's headphones sadly come off. Unfortunately, that marks a bit of a stumble for the film. The movie loses its thread a little bit once the full commitment to musical drops. Maybe it was impossible to really keep the entire film moving forward as a coherent whole while remaining faithful to the constant music (most musicals don't do that), but once the film ditches the idea to advance the plot it starts to lose some of its charm. There's still plenty of good to go around, and any time the film kicks back into car chase mode it picks the thread back up. But between these moments things get a little awkward. The movie still works, but it's disappointing it doesn't fully commit to its bold idea. Do not mistake a lack of fully successful execution with lack of quality. Part of the reason the film's inability to fully dive into its soundtrack-is-god style is so annoying is because what it's doing is so challenging and interesting, that when comes together it does it so well. This isn't some cheap gimmick like Suicide Squad tried to do. It's even a step up from Guardians of the Galaxy's use of soundtrack. It's a bold experiment in making music into a full blown character, and as an experiment it both works and fails. But man, when it works, like those first 20 minutes, it works so well.  I wish as much could be said for the story itself. While Baby and Deborah's story arc is pretty well flushed out, the rest of the characters lose a bit of push. This is especially true for Doc, who wavers between all out evil and a paternal gangster. With the focus on the music and action, the characters and their motivations get lost. The end of the film explodes into a bloody action flick that feels at odds with the almost charming tone of the rest of the film. Maybe this is a repudiation of the musical genre in general, and a wink at the soundtrack-as-character itself, but it feels almost like a cop-out. It's as if Wright realized he couldn't carry on his brilliant weaving of music and action so he just didn't. Baby Driver should be seen simply because it is such a bold and wonderful idea. It really does execute it well for most of the movie. That's why I kind of hate to say that it doesn't pull it off fully. That makes it sound like it has failed, but just trying to do this is a success. I'd rather have films that try something incredible and fall just a little short than ones that don't try at all.
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Fred Astaire meets Bullit
Edgar Wright is a director with a specific vision, and it's led him to make some of the most genre-bending films in the past decade, and some of the funniest. It's also led him to leave Ant-Man. How do you bounce back from so...

Daniel Day-Lewis has retired from acting

Jun 20 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]221623:43612:0[/embed] Day-Lewis' career has been full of memorable performances dating back into the 1980s. His breakthrough was 1989's My Left Foot, for which he won his first Academy Award. Day-Lewis would also win Oscars for his performances in There Will Be Blood and Lincoln; he received Best Actor nominations for In the Name of the Father and Gangs of New York. Day-Lewis will purportedly promote The Phantom Thread as the film gets closer to release. Perhaps more details will emerge then regarding this very sudden decision. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to rewatch The Unbearable Lightness of Being, The Last of the Mohicans, and The Boxer. I'm going to need a lot of milkshakes. [via Variety]
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No more milkshakes
In totally unexpected news, Daniel Day-Lewis has decided to retire from acting. One of the finest actors of his generation, Day-Lewis' last onscreen role will be in Paul Thomas Anderson's The Phantom Thread, which comes out D...

Review: Cars 3

Jun 19 // Drew Stuart
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Here in my Car(s 3)
Pixar has made a name for itself these past few decades by delivering quality kids films that everyone can enjoy, regardless of age. Yet among those films, the Cars series is rarely included, and for good reason. The storytel...

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Seriously watch it right now
We got a brief look at Black Panther last night during game 4 of the NBA Finals and to sum it up, it looks amazing. Set in the technologically advanced but secluded African nation of Wakanda, Black Panther will tell the story...

Flixist Discusses: Is Wonder Woman a Great Movie or Just an Important One? [Part 2]

Jun 10 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]221587:43586:0[/embed] Alec: As the guy who wrote Flixist’s review of Get Out, I understand a parallel there. We've talked in the past about how everything is political now. It's likely that it always has been, but it's much more widely recognized now than it used to be. To get off topic for a minute: Not a terribly long time ago, I was thinking about a hypothetical movie about racism vs one about sexism. One follows a member of the KKK, the other an MRA-esque pickup artist: which do we as a society see as more problematic? It's not the latter. There are a lot of reasons for this, and I'm certainly not the best person to list them, but this results in an interesting parallel to Black Panther (and Ryan Coogler in particular): Creed was, I learned upon entering the theater I saw it in, a “black” movie. The trailers leading up to it primarily featured Kevin Hart and Ice Cube in movies I had never seen trailers for. And it's offensively reductive to think of Creed (a movie I love) in those terms, but that is what Regal decided its audience would be. Racists may have been unhappy that the next Rocky focused on the experiences of a black man, but I don't think anyone who accepted that premise was concerned about Ryan Coogler. I think that, in a similar vein, the same man directing Black Panther is not necessarily controversial. And the backlash of a white director doing Black Panther would be more virulent than it was about, say, Paul Fieg directing the female-led Ghostbusters. There is an expectation, I think, that movies about black people will largely be made by black people. This leads into a whole host of other issues, but to get back to the actual discussion we're having: I don't see a woman analog. Movies about women are rarely made by women and, crucially, there is no expectation that they be. I think that’s why a woman directing Wonder Woman could even be in question. Of course she should, but… men tell women's stories all the time! So maybe she doesn't “need to”? It's an infuriating logic, but I can sorta see it (in a missing-the-forest-for-the-trees kind of way). And I realize now that I pretty much didn't respond to what you said… but I'd like to get your thoughts on this before going back to some of your other points (particularly about the younger generation and what this means for them, because I think that's crucial). Hubert: This is an interesting tangent, because we’re talking about the larger cultural idea concerning different people’s stories, who is telling their stories, expectations about those stories, and who gets to tell people’s stories. I think Wonder Woman would have a different sensibility if it was directed by a man; and Get Out would be different if it was directed by a white person. It goes beyond the individual style of a director and gets down to what these stories mean in terms of the identity of the director and the identities of the characters and the politics of the moment. After serving on the Cannes jury, Jessica Chastain stated publicly that the female characters in the movies she watched weren’t great. She was disturbed that they lacked depth and were such passive characters to the men around them; they weren’t representative of the women she knew in her own life. Chastain called for more women to tell stories on the big screen so the female characters had more dimension and agency. A lot of people still think of movies about women as “chick flicks”, but stories about women go beyond those dismissive labels. As more women direct movies and more stories are told about women, the idea of a movie about women or by women expands beyond a reductive niche. The same goes for films by and about people of color. The reason we’re having this whole conversation and probably will for a while is because the default sensibility in so many kinds of art is predominantly white and male.  That’s not to say that all movies about women should only be directed by women, or that all movies about people of color should only be directed by members of that ethnicity. But maybe some stories lend themselves to that type of consideration more than others. Like I think of Paul Verhoeven’s Elle from last year, which I didn’t like (I’m in the vast minority) despite a great Isabelle Huppert performance. It’s a movie about a woman who’s raped and how she processes the incident and reacts to it, but it’s directed by a man, with a screenplay by a man, adapted from a novel by a man. And it felt like it. I’m glad you mentioned the 2016 Ghostbusters reboot. I think this comes back to the symbolic cultural dimension of films and how that informs a strong personal attachment to something. These days I think it’s just middling-to-okay, but lots of my friends rally around it. Part of that is a counterpoint to the over-the-top male-nerd rage over an all-female Ghostbusters remake. But beyond the rebuke of manchild gatekeeping, whenever the movie feels like a Kate McKinnon, Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones comedy, it’s fun to watch because they’re doing their own thing and their personalities drive the story. Unfortunately, it’s a beat-for-beat remake of the original Ghostbusters. I feel like there’s a good-to-great movie trapped inside of a calculated, studio-mandated formula. And maybe someone other than Feig should have directed it. Though imagine the s**t-show if Feig was hired to direct Black Panther. Alec: It would be something to behold. Ultimately, we're talking about representation, and not just in the people on screen. Representation behind the scenes, allowing stories to be told by the people whose stories are actually being told. In certain circles, “representation” has developed a negative connotation -- something like tokenism -- but it’s a crucially important thing to have stories told about all kinds of people, and to have them told by the kinds of people who have a deep investment in those stories. It’s not just about who is on screen. Let’s be honest: a story about Wonder Woman means a lot less to someone who grew up wanting to be Superman. (That actually brings up a whole other discussion re: the fact that I don’t think anyone will grow up wanting to be Zack Snyder’s version of Superman) And here we return to this image of parents taking a photo of their daughter doing a Wonder Woman-y pose at the movie theater. That little girl is getting to see a badass woman starring in her own movie on the big screen for basically the first time ever. AND she gets to see that in a movie that refuses to sexualize one of the most attractive human beings to ever exist; nay, a movie that never even considers sexualizing her in the first place! It would be oh-so-easy to have all kinds of gratuitous fan service in this movie, given the generally sparse nature of her costume, but the film never calls attention to it. All of that unnecessary slow-mo in Wonder Woman may seem Snyder-esque, but it’s different in purpose: it’s always to call attention to the cool thing that’s being done and not the way the person doing it is dressed (an issue he has with his slow-motion (and regular-motion) portrayals of women). And I love that. I am ecstatic for that little girl, that she gets to grow up in a world where she has a movie that treats its badass woman protagonist as a badass protagonist first and a woman, well, first also but in, ya know, a positive way. I just wish I liked the movie itself more. Because I am celebrating all of these things that surround the movie and things that the movie does that are sort of abstracted from the actual quality of the movie itself. Sexualization of a character does not a make a movie inherently bad; it would make a Wonder Woman movie inherently problematic, but it is not a clear measure of the film’s quality. And when I think about the narrative foibles or the really-very-bad CGI, I just get sad, because I want to unequivocally shout from the heavens that this movie is a gamechanger not just culturally but as a piece of art (or, at the very least, entertainment). And it’s not; it’s just good. But when I put in all those caveats, I worry about diminishing the excitement of that little girl doing her pose. It’s not that she’d ever read a thing I said about it, but that the negativity of people like me could poison the well and take her excitement about this new awesome thing for her and crush it. I don’t want that to happen, and I don’t want to be that kind of person, that kind of guy. And so I don’t always know how to critique it, because it’s become inextricably linked from its own importance. Hubert: I think you can understand the joy or enthusiasm that the young girl has for Wonder Woman as a symbol even if you didn’t like Wonder Woman the movie as much as she did. The fact that you’re concerned about diminishing someone else’s enthusiasm for Wonder Woman safeguards you from being a total grump. You’re trying to avoid being a downer, which is a lot better than most people on the internet (says this guy on the internet). Instead, you’re saying, “You got that out of Wonder Woman? Awesome!” You acknowledge that it means something important to someone else, and you’re doing your best to understand that. To me, that’s the way around this whole sliding scale of quality question. Regardless of the movie itself, you can at least mutually understand its importance as this thing in the world. The movie is working as an empathy machine, and so is the conversation around the movie. Whenever I talk to friends about movies or books or any sort of art, I’m usually more interested in hearing what they think first before saying what I think. I want to share in their enthusiasm or passion for something, see where they’re coming from. We’ll disagree on some stuff, and what’s important to someone else may not have been something I was paying attention to when I was watching, but now I’m more aware of that concern. Generally it doesn’t matter if we agree on the quality of the work. It’s the conversation about this thing in common between us that matters; it’s about what new ideas we’ll have talking to each other about this thing in common. It’s interesting how you’re disappointed in Wonder Woman being merely good. As if being good wasn’t enough. But with some things, that so true! You want to experience that transformative, transcendent feeling. I’ve felt that same way about other movies, most recently with Your Name and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Both were so hyped up for me, but both just left me thinking, “That was all right.” I get why people love those movies on paper when I think of what happens in the abstract, but it just didn’t affect me in the same way. And that’s fine. This might be my inner Platonist talking, but the idea of something is always more perfect than its actual material manifestation. It might be the human tendency to conflate the idea of the thing with the actual thing when assessing quality, but if so, oh well. I guess all I can really say is that you should be happy for that girl at the movies, and don’t worry about spoiling her connection to Wonder Woman just because you didn’t like it as much. You’re conscious of what it means to her and to others. It’s not like you’re being a total asshole or questioning her intellect or trying to debate her about aesthetics. As long as you aren’t tweeting “Well, actually…” to a bunch of Wonder Woman fans on the internet or antagonizing people for not sharing your opinions, I think everyone will be fine. And yet sadly, that happens a lot since the internet is, at its worst, a solipsistic misanthropy machine. Alec: I don't remember which review it was (I've done too many at this point), but I once wrote passionately in defense of movies that are Just Good. Considering all of the dreck we have to deal with, being genuinely Good is a triumph, and I have never seen a Good movie that I felt was a waste of my time or a thing I regretted doing. Good is not fundamentally or inherently problematic. When Good becomes a problem (for me) is when other people rave about how Great, Amazing, Wonderful, etc. a thing is. It becomes impossible to celebrate a thing's Goodness when everyone else is celebrating Greatness. I want to be able to say, "Ya know, Wonder Woman was pretty good. It had its flaws, but it it's definitely a few steps above anything the DCEU has done up to this point." Instead, I end up arguing, because there are people who reject the idea that it is anything short of a triumph. And while on some level I see where they're coming from, I also don't think they're looking at the film critically; they're getting swept up into it. And that's not necessarily to say that people who like the movie more than me are wrong (storytelling impacts different people very differently, which is largely the reason why we do these discussions in the first place) but that I get concerned that people write off flaws and the next movie that could be Great learning from the mistakes of the thing that is Good repeats them instead. I'd rather live in a world where every movie is Good than one where it has fallen into constant mediocrity. Even so, I want movies better than Wonder Woman. This can be the new bar we set, but it's also hardly an impossible one to overcome.  Wonder Woman is the beginning of something great; I just don't think it's great in and of itself.
Wonder Woman Discussed 2 photo
Racism, sexism, etc.
We're back with the second (and final) part of our Wonder Woman discussion, where we get into much, um, headier(?) topics than we did yesterday. Hubert continues to use big words, and I continue to make broad statements that ...

Flixist Discusses: Is Wonder Woman a Great Movie or Just an Important One? [Part 1]

Jun 09 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]221013:43185:0[/embed] Alec: Before we really get into the issue at hand, I want to establish my DC cred (or lack thereof). I liked Man of Steel and thought Batman v Superman was bad but worth seeing in IMAX and that the Director’s Cut was actually decent, if still infuriatingly stupid. Also, Suicide Squad was awful. My first introduction to Wonder Woman as a character came in Batman v Superman and I came into this knowing pretty much nothing about her. If this movie changes her up (as I imagine it does), I couldn't tell you how. Crucially, I also don't care. I think that, by this point, the modern DCEU has staked out its underlying theme: Do heroes have a place in the world? While Marvel films seem more-or-less content to have them around in some capacity, DC questions their existence (in that sense, it has more in common with Fox’s Marvel films than Disney's). Do I think it succeeds? Not really, at least most of the time, but I do think it's a more interesting question than Marvel's. Prior to getting into the specific merits of Wonder Woman, its place in DC’s canon, and -- perhaps most crucially -- its place in American culture in 2017, I wanted to get your opinion on the DCEU and also whether you agree with my assessment of the story it’s trying (and often failing) to tell. Hubert: I agree that the DCEU movies ask what place heroes have in the world. That’s the crux of Man of Steel (which I didn’t care for), and the film has a pretty dark, non-committal answer to the question. Rather than a moral beacon, the Superman in Man of Steel is unsure of his purpose and constantly wrestles with self-doubt. After saving a bus full of drowning children, Clark’s dad isn’t proud that his son did the right thing. He essentially says, “Maybe you should have let those kids die to protect yourself.” That’s one effed-up moral compass, Pa Kent--you standing near a magnet? And then Pa Kent commits suicide by tornado in front of his wife and kid to prove a point. Jesus, Jonathan, how messed up was your dad? So Superman is this glum hero who seems burdened by his need to do the right thing rather than fueled by it. Meanwhile, Batman is a homicidal psychopath who’s really into CrossFit. That’s not my preferred iteration of the character. It’s pretty striking that the Batman and Superman of the DCEU are these really damaged people that are still working through their traumas. Worse, they find no sense of meaning or purpose in their heroism. They remind me of the grim-and-gritty Batman and Superman analogs from the comics of the 1990s. And yeah, Suicide Squad sucked on toast. I feel like Wonder Woman is a break from that grimness and glumness. She’s this optimistic, idealistic, confident hero who wants to help people because it’s the right thing to do. Full stop. She would save a bus full of drowning children and take them out for ice cream after that. That’s the kind of heroism I think of when I think of Superman, but it’ll take the DCEU Superman years of therapy to undo the BS his dad gave him. Alec: I think it's true that Wonder Woman is a radically different take on a superhero than what Zack Snyder has thus far done with the DCEU. Wisecrack did a really interesting video recently about the philosophical failures of Batman v Superman, focusing largely on the fact that Batman is the objectivist ideal that Snyder loves (and Frank Miller portrayed in The Dark Knight Returns) but so, in many ways, is Superman. Wonder Woman is very much not that. She is, it seems, in the wrong universe. (I think this is furthered by the fact that she is literally a god, which complicates the whole Superman-as-god-kinda-but-not-really thing that has been the crux of the franchise thus far.) That said, even if the hero doesn't feel like a natural fit, her movie does. It's more colorful and quippier, to be sure, but it's still rather brutal. Marvel dealt with the idea of civilian casualties in Captain America: Civil War, but they didn't show Scarlet Witch walking through the building she destroyed like they made Diana walk through the mustard gas’d village. (I could imagine a truly horrific R-rated cut of this movie.) Beyond that, the over-reliance on CGI, particularly towards the end, felt very DC, particularly since their movies have objectively worse effects than do Marvel’s, and I found Wonder Woman's effects to be consistently and seriously lacking. Which brings us, ultimately, to what this whole thing is about, because I feel weird criticizing this movie, because the movie is genuinely important. It is the first $100 million+ blockbuster to be directed by a woman and first film in either comic cinematic universe to center on a woman. It has made a ton of money, and I'm ecstatic for that, because apparently there was a question about whether or not women could make movies that people would want to see. And now that question is (or should be) settled firmly in the “Yes” camp. And good.  But my feelings are complicated greatly by the fact that I think the movie is pretty good but not the brilliant, revolutionary thing that so many folks in my Facebook feed appear to have experienced. Because I think this movie is important historically, but I don't think history will be kind to it.  Hubert: I liked the movie a lot more than you did, but I also sense that a lot of the love people have for Wonder Woman is rooted in its historical significance and/or personal significance. A couple of my friends have talked about seeing the movie with their daughters, or with their nieces and young cousins, and the sense of pride they felt watching it. Other friends talk about the confidence the movie instilled in them as women, which is something they haven’t felt from other movies. On my way to the theater to see Wonder Woman, I saw some parents take a picture of their young daughter striking a Wonder Woman-y pose in front of the Wonder Woman poster; I immediately thought of my niece, who isn’t even a year old, and what she might think of the movie when she eventually sees it. Conversely, I have a couple friends who outright refuse to see the movie because of Gal Gadot’s service in the IDF and her support of Israel. People may love (or hate) a movie for what it represents at the moment rather than what the movie is in and of itself. But I think that’s fine. It’s natural, even. It’s unavoidable. I think that’s how people encounter art and consume entertainment in their daily lives. No movie is ever a movie in and of itself. There’s the work, there’s the viewer and what they bring to the work, and there’s the social/political/historical context in which the viewer encounters the work. We can’t step outside of world history or personal history, and neither can a work of art or entertainment. My reaction to a movie may cool over time, and that’s natural because we change our minds, the hype dies down, and maybe in our reassessment we realize we aren’t so hot on the thing we once really liked. The reverse is true as well. There have been plenty of movies I’ve come to love later when I’m in a different point in my life and can see the work differently. This may be weird to say, but I think Get Out and Wonder Woman occupy a similar space this year in terms of their social/historical significance and how that affects people’s individual love for the film. I like Get Out a lot and think it’s a well made horror-comedy with remarkable insights about race, though I don’t think it’s the masterpiece other people think it is. But that’s fine. As an assimilated Filipino guy who grew up in the suburbs, my personal connection to Get Out isn’t anything like the personal connection of my Haitian friend who’s married to a white woman. I guess I’m saying that we never experience art in an ahistorical, non-biographical social vacuum. I guess I’m also saying there may be a similar cultural conversation surrounding Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther come February 2018. [Check back tomorrow for Part 2!]
Wonder Woman Discussed photo
The answer might surprise me
So, Wonder Woman is out. We here at Flixist are big fans, but I will admit to being a bit more lukewarm than many of my colleagues here (as well as most of my social circle). But quality aside, it's an important mov...

Review: The Mummy

Jun 09 // Matthew Razak
[embed]221584:43585:0[/embed] The MummyDirector: Alex KurtzmanRelease Date: June 9, 2016Rated: PG-13 The Mummy has very little to do with the classic horror film from 1932 because that is a classic. Nor does it have much to do with the Brendan Fraser led (words I'll probably never type again) The Mummy from 1999 because that was fun. Nor does it really have anything to do with any mummy that you're thinking about unless you're thinking about a mostly naked Sofia Boutella with some rotting skin.  We find Boutella, playing the ancient and evil Princess Ahmanet, being buried alive because she's evil. Flash forward to modern day and tomb raider Nick Morton (Tom Cruise) and his pal Chris Vail (Jake Johnson) discover her tomb after calling in an air strike because they're also in the army. From there the movie makes a lot of illogical leaps that basically lead Nick to become the chosen one, which means the evil god Set will inhabit his body after ceremony is performed by Ahmanet wherein she stabs him. Add in Dr. Henry Jekyll (Russell Crowe) to say a lot of exposition, and hint at the bigger Dark Universe as a whole, and a love interest for Nick (Annabelle Wallis), and you've got yourself... nearly nothing.  That is basically what The Mummy amounts to. By the time the film is nearing its ending it literally feels like it hasn't even started. You would think that issue would stem from the fact that they've shoved too much universe building into the film, but it is actually the opposite. The movie never seems to be able to establish any universe at all. We're supposed to care about Nick and his love interest, but she's such a 90s action movie MacGuffin that I've completely forgotten her name. We never get a true feeling for what Nick is going through, and Ahmanet's powers are so wishy washy and illogical that it creates plot holes that are hard to ignore. It's a superhero origin story where the superhero never shows up.  I will give credit where its due. I'm excited to see more of Russel Crowe's Jekyll/Hyde. The actor actually imbues his exposition with a bit of panache, and Jekyll's brief appearance is the most fun the movie has. In fact, aside from that the movie is just bland. Universal wants to establish a "dark" universe, but there's nothing dark about this movie at all except for its instance to mute every color in existence. It plays the same note throughout, feeling more like a dated action movie than a modern blockbuster. The DC Extended Universe may have its issues, but at least its got a tone and feeling of its own. The Mummy can't differentiate itself from the myriad of other action flicks released each year. That may come from Alex Kurtzman's directing. Why Universal would take the risk on a guy only known for producing is beyond me, but his first big studio movie lacks any character at all. His action sequences are competent enough, but rely a bit too much on unremarkable CGI, and he routinely wastes the charms of Tom Cruise, who wavers back and forth on whether he's really committed to playing the role. In fairness, if I saw the way the movie was unfolding, I'd probably stop caring too. Finally, Kurtzman just can't keep the pace. The film lulls and then picks up randomly and then lulls again. Part of that probably comes from the screenplay-by-committee (six credited writers) production, but Kurtzman could have made it flow better. The sad fact is that The Mummy isn't truly terrible. It isn't really anything. There's some decent action sequences with some clever gimmicks sprinkled in. There's a plot that's illogical, but passable, and actors who, under the right circumstances, could make something interesting happen. But nothing interesting does happen. The Mummy is two hours of nothing, and at this moment that means that the entirety of the Dark Universe is two hours of nothing. Universal better pray for a big bang soon or it'll keep on being nothing, and none of their stars will shine. 
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Don't universes get started with a bang?
Everybody wants a superhero movie universe now. Thanks to Marvel's insane success at stringing together a cinematic comic universe, every movie studio out there wants a piece of the pie. You can't really blame them. Cinematic...

Wonder Woman is the hero the DCEU deserves, and also the one it needs right now

Jun 07 // Hubert Vigilla
Up until Wonder Woman, the DCEU has been defined by oppressive brooding. Man of Steel featured a Superman hobbled by self-doubt for at least half of the story. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice was a clash between a sociopathic demi-god with daddy issues and a homicidal psychopath with mommy issues. Suicide Squad was a bad movie full of bad guys. No one seems to enjoy heroism in any of these movies. Except for Wonder Woman. As I mentioned last year, Wonder Woman was the only genuine hero in Batman v Superman. She leaps into battle with gusto and handles herself capably. She could have saved the day herself if Batman and Superman were such dumb meatheads. Throughout Wonder Woman's origin story, Diana admires strength and bravery and being totally kick ass. She marvels at the Amazons as they spar, and she mimics their moves. Diana, throwing punches at the air, smiling on a hill--that was me at five-years-old standing on a coffee table watching Bruce Lee movies. I imagine that a bunch of kids, particularly girls, will also punch and kick along with Gadot on screen. Her martial prowess is grounded in an unshakable sense of compassion and kindness. Her first time eating ice cream is a great comedic moment, but it's also all about Diana's ceaseless love. She's so appreciative for the cone, she's so gracious to the vendor--and yes, come to think of it, ice cream is pretty awesome the first time you ever eat it (and the 5,000th time, too). As she watches villagers besieged and in pain, her instinct is to help them rather than allow them to suffer; when she sees a horse being whipped, she thinks of a more humane way to treat animals. While Man of Steel shied away from collateral damage by keeping Superman and Zod battling through the skies, Wonder Woman is there in the mud, wandering through the murderous gas, like she's a superhero working for some humanitarian NGO. In the most memorable action scene in the film, Wonder Woman is the first one out of the trenches leading the charge into No Man's Land. As she draws the machine gunfire and holds her ground, she's the beacon of hope, an example for others to follow. She accepts this duty without any sense of guilt or doubt. She's saving the day. Why do it begrudgingly. In the most absurd of wars, a moral light. Wonder Woman always wanted to be a hero. She always is a hero. If there's a moment of disenchantment in heroism, it's not because she's a dark and brooding figure unsure of herself and her powers. Rather, it's when she realizes that humanity excels at reckless murder. It's a philosophical crisis rather than a psychological crisis, which is fitting for a mythic character's dilemma. A worldview is questioned, so what's the response? To keep fighting for your ideals. Love, valor, ice cream--nevertheless, she persisted. In addition to the hope and unabashed heroism, Wonder Woman is the most competently made DCEU movie. The colorful utopian idyll of Themyscira serves as a counterpoint to a morally gray Europe during the first World War. The screenplay may not reinvent the superhero movie or the superhero origin story, but it covers that well-trod ground briskly and with humor. Jenkins lets the camera linger on Diana's face a little longer as she reacts to people and the world around her; Gadot's subtle facial expressions offer an unexpected depth to the performance that isn't present in the other DCEU movies. There's not much going on in the heads of Batman and Superman that a scream or a grunt won't convey, but Wonder Woman has an internal life. Jenkins' filmmaking adds some allure to the otherwise rote romance that develops between Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) and Diana. Subverting the usual gender tropes we see in blockbuster movies, the only overtly sexy moment in the film involves a naked, chiseled Pine emerging from a shimmering Themysciran bath. In any other movie that would be the moment for a gratuitous Angelina Jolie butt shot, but no--Wonder Woman subverts it to great effect. Even when Diana and Steve eventually sleep together, that's handled with relative maturity. An adult is charge for once in the otherwise adolescent DCEU. In Wonder Woman, there's no embarrassing horndog gawking at a woman's body a la Suicide Squad. Instead of pin-ups or conquests, Gadot and her fellow Amazons are lensed like warriors and athletes; Bruce-Lee-ification rather than objectification. The slow motion in the action scenes seem to be a nod to Zack Snyder's aesthetic, but they also reminded me of Michael Jordan highlight reels. Here, enjoy the grace and the hang time of someone doing something extraordinary. And yeah, the kid in me wished I could so something like that. At its best, moments like this split the difference between Richard Donner's Superman ("You will believe a man can fly") and that song from Space Jam ("I Believe I Can Fly"). Sure, the last half hour of Wonder Woman strays into schlocky CG superhero territory. I was sort of hoping the final battle with Ares would be shot like a moving neoclassical painting as seen with the backstory at the beginning, but alas. It's basically the Doomsday fight from Batman v Superman, but with more magic lightning. And yeah, the bookending narrative is a clunky device that leads to the film's awkward beginning and ending. And yet, I'm hopeful, and it's the first time I've had that feeling with a DCEU movie. Rather than cynical, it's sincere. In an interview with The New York Times, Jenkins said, "I'm tired of sincerity being something we have to be afraid of doing." She later added, "It's terrible when it makes so many artists afraid to be sincere and truthful and emotional, and relegates them to the too-cool-for-school department. Art is supposed to bring beauty to the world." Outside the theater as I was going to catch Wonder Woman, a little girl stood in front of the movie poster and held her arms up in front of her face while her parents took a picture. What it feels like to stand on a hill.
Wonder Woman DCEU photo
Kick ass, take names, eat ice cream
Wonder Woman is just what the DCEU needed. It's been getting very good reviews, and it's also been performing well at the global box office. As of this writing, it's earned $240 million worldwide. It's not stratospheric busin...

Review: Wonder Woman

May 31 // Nick Valdez
[embed]221570:43578:0[/embed] Wonder WomanDirector: Patty JenkinsRelease Date: June 2, 2017Rated: PG-13 Diana (Gal Gadot) is the Princess of Themyscira, an island inhabiting an ancient Amazonian race put on the Earth by Zeus to stifle mankind's need for war. Molded from clay and birthed by Zeus, Diana has always been a little different from the rest of her Amazonian sisters and put to the true test when Steve Trevor (Chris Pine), an English spy, crash lands on her home and brings news of a great war happening around the world (WWI). Figuring it to be the work of Ares, the god of war, Diana demands to be taken to the front line. But when in the outside world, Diana has to come to grips with her own humanity as she learns the real driving force behind the war.  Let's get this out of the way first. Wonder Woman is an origin story. The plot follows a lot of the standard beats you've come to expect from origin stories (complete with a sequence introducing the flashback in question), but unlike other films of its ilk, rather than a character slowly becoming a mythological being, Wonder Woman essentially works backwards. As it's introducing Diana and her world, the film takes an already established higher being and challenges her infallibility. Always being sure to treat her as a goddess, the narrative instead veers away from the stereotypical physical change and focuses on internal struggle and strife. Momentous scenes in origin stories like first donning of the famous suit, fighting the main villain, and the original call to action, are subdued in favor of zeroing in on Diana's matter-of-fact perspective. Basically, there's no need to have Diana change into a hero since she already is one, and I can't understate how refreshing it is to learn about her humanity instead.  Ambitious as the internal narrative is, it wouldn't have worked without a strong performance from its lead. To be completely honest, I was worried about Gal Gadot's strength as a lead actress going into this. Thankfully, that worry only lasted about 20 minutes. While the first chunk of the film is stilted and full of bad acting and accents (likening it to a more generic version of Xena: Warrior Princess), once Gadot is introduced everything perks right up. She's kind of incredible in the way she commands attention here (befitting the character too). Director Patty Jenkins takes a little time each shot to make Gadot stand out a little more, whether its subtly pointing out the fact she is taller than most of her co-stars, or the costume design making her look just different enough from everyone else. Gadot and Jenkins work together to really nail the fish out of water angle here, and further smooth out any edges Gadot could have in her performance.  But Gadot's performance wouldn't have meant anything without a great script. Wonder Woman may not be perfectly written in all areas (as one big moment diminishes her character), but there's a great balance of levity and drama. What I came to appreciate the most were smaller beats allowing the actors to really dig into their characters. Chris Pine is as charming as he's ever been, so the best scenes of the film are simply subdued conversations between Steve and Diana. These smaller, character intense moments also help to elevate the later generic superhero action taking place toward the climax. There's an added layer of catharsis, but it doesn't mean the climax is safe from gender normative action where Diana is suddenly not the character she was the rest of the film. The climax will need further discussion once more folks see it for sure.  As for the action, it's fine. The action scenes are a bit Snyder-esque as they use slow motion to emphasize movement, but there is a greater sense of fluidity in the motion. Once Diana starts whipping around dudes with a golden rope, the film basks in some very cool visuals. There's unfortunately a bit of unintentional slapstick during some of the scenes, but it gives the film a little flavor not seen in other DC Comics films. I'll give it a pass.  The fear when reviewing superhero films is critically analyzing them within a bubble. Initially, I was worried I'd attribute Wonder Woman's success to being a well made film within the DC Extended Universe (and we've been burned so many times), and just clinging to it like a life raft in a sea of schmaltz. But, after writing this review, I've come to the conclusion it's just a damn good film.  Wonder Woman, the oft-misplaced icon in DC's Holy Trinity, has truly made her mark on cinema. Less Batmen and supermenches, more wonderful women please.  Second Opinion: Wonder Woman gets almost everything right for its first two acts. Its action sequences are impressive, and utilize Wonder Woman's superpowers in unique and awesome ways. Patty Jenkins has a surprising eye for action for a drama director that allows it to flow and build, a feature many directors seem to lack. But more important than the kick ass action sequences is the fact the film works as a character piece. Unlike other DCEU films, you actually care about what's going on, the plot unfolds in a coherent way, and the characters act like they should. Yes, it may hit on a few (OK, a lot) of cliches, but it implements them to a tee. A lot of the charm comes from Chris Pine and Gal Gadot, who turn their relationship into something special. The film actually hits emotionally, which is why it's too bad the third act turns into nothing more than an action brawler. It doesn't fit with the rest of the film's tone, and feels more like a Zack Snyder movie than anything else. This doesn't sully the film as a whole, however, leading to a superhero movie that feels like its own thing. 80 -- Matthew Razak
Wonder Woman Review photo
Some kind of wonderful
DC Comics and Warner Bros have been, well, let's say misguided in their attempts at launching a series of films comparable to Marvel's success. Deciding to push through critical failure (thanks to overall box office success),...

Review: Baywatch

May 24 // Nick Valdez
[embed]221553:43568:0[/embed] BaywatchDirector: Seth GordonRelease Date: May 26, 2017Rated: R Mitch (Dwayne Johnson) is a lifeguard everyone loves. He may take his job a bit too seriously, but in the world of Baywatch, his lifeguard post includes its own arm of the local government (complete with enough of a budget to afford things like ATVs). When confronted with the disgraced, former Olympian Matt Brody (Zac Efron), he's forced to put his feelings about the new recruit aside when they uncover a larger drug plot at hand that's threatening the entire bay. But when the police won't investigate, Lt. Mitch and his lifeguard crew decide to take matters into their own hands and dicks and boobs.  Like most unfortunate comedies to fall in this category, Baywatch substitutes actual jokes with raunchy humor. Now I don't have a problem with raunch in practice, as dick jokes are as classic as apple pie, but they're only great when they don't disrupt the flow of the film. It's hard to explain, but I'll try and elaborate on my problem with Baywatch's genitalia humor by outlining one of its more problematic scenes. In the first fifteen minutes or so, Ronnie (Jon Bass), the archetypal loser of the bunch, has a crush on the lifeguard CJ (Kelly Rohrback) -- who's only purpose in this film is to be ogled -- and chokes on some food when she runs by. After CJ delivers the heimlich maneuver (complete with thrusting), Ronnie becomes erect. But to hide it from her, he nervously stumbles until he falls and gets stuck, dick first, in a beach chair. Thus resulting in a large crowd of people surrounding Ronnie as CJ and Mitch talk about setting him free. If it sounds like my summary made the scene seem devoid of charm, it was actually much worse experiencing it first hand. Sure it serves the purpose of introducing Ronnie and CJ's dynamic, but paints their friendship in an unpleasant, slog of a light.  It's a shame Baywatch relies so much on low hanging fruit humor, since it can be intelligent when it puts forth an effort. When the film allows itself to be made fun of, it actually makes for pretty fantastic sequences. The film's opening, for example, combines all that you'd expect to see (Johnson diving in slow motion, wide shots of the beach) but injects with a major nod to how ridiculous it all is once the title card shows up. There are even a few inspired raunchy bits (like the talking balls gag), and the fact that Mitch never refers to Brody by his real name. These occasional bright spots in the dialogue only make the rest of the script more disappointing by comparison.  But the major factor at play is how straight it plays the premise. Baywatch, while occasionally winking at itself, also takes things much more seriously than you'd hope. Long stretches are dedicated to plot exposition, or un-interestingly shot action sequences. Rather than laugh, or even question what I was watching, I often found myself having no reaction at all. And with a comedy that clocks in at two hours, that's pretty much the equivalent of drowning in shallow water. It's something that could've easily been avoided had you tried to kick around a bit.  Like the vapid characters of its source material, Baywatch is great to look at but once it opens its mouth you realize how hollow it is. It's almost as if the entire film plays in slow motion.  Baywatch is a bad watch. I know I should feel guilty about not ending this review on a better joke, but that'd mean putting in more effort than the film did. 
Baywatch Review photo
So much emocean
Baywatch is another film in the same vein of nostalgic television reboots like The A-Team, CHiPs, and the crazily successful 21 Jump Street. A show known only for attractive people running in slow motion serving as a sor...

In defense of Roger Moore

May 24 // Matthew Razak
First, Roger Moore could deliver a one-liner like no other. Part of this was the fact that he didn't really look like he could deliver a one-liner. Moore never had the rough suaveness of Connery, the playfulness of Lazenby, the sneering edge of Dalton, the boyish charm of Brosnan or the harsh facade of Craig. He was straight-laced, upright, and square-jawed so when he delivered a line like, "Just keeping the British end up," while raising his iconic eyebrow it was just mischievous enough to actually work. Only Connery could nail a one-liner like Moore did.  Often Moore is criticized for taking Bond in a comedic direction and eventually into camp territory. However, this trend towards a more ridiculous Bond was well in place by the time Moore took over, and, in fact, was clearly what audiences wanted at the time. After Connery left following You Only Live Twice, a film full of what would come to be known as Moore-style Bond action, Eon Productions actually did ground Bond. On Her Majesty's Secret Service is one of the most prolifically grounded Bond films there is, and could fit right in with Craig's current slate of films minus a few sight gags. It did not do as well as previous Bonds at the box office (though still was one of the top films of the year), so what happened? Full tilt the other way with Connery returning one last time for Diamonds Are Forever and the true birth of a less serious Bond. This is what audiences wanted from their Bond at the time, and Moore was way better than anyone else at playing it up with a wink to the camera.  Combining the newer direction of the franchise with Moore's uncanny ability to play it straight while still finding the fun of a scene worked really well for Bond. But he's still remembered for the excess and ridiculousness instead of subtle nods. And that is a fair complaint. He went to space and shot lasers (more on this later) for Pete's sake. However, lost in the mire of space stations (Moonraker), underwater sea labs (The Spy Who Loved Me) and hot air balloon raids with an all female circus (Octopussy), is that fact that a lot of Moore's bond films weren't that big at all. In fact he kicked off his tenure with the relatively subdued Live and Let Die, which featured an incredibly complex story that played Moore's stiff Britishness against a Harlem gang to surprising effect. The Man with the Golden Gun may start to show signs of the preponderance of overblown Bond that was too come (slide whistle car flips and Sheriff Pepper), but it also ends with a one-on-one showdown between two foes. Yes, it's in a ridiculous setting, but Moore actually pulls the tension out of it alongside the fantastic Christopher Lee. Then there is For Your Eyes Only, a film in which Moore's Bond is a complete and total badass. If it weren't for the Bibi scenes the film would be one of the straightest played Bond films around.  But Bond wasn't (and isn't really) about being subdued. In fact Roger Moore's best Bond film, The Spy Who Loved Me, is easily one of the best Bond films around specifically because it is everything that makes Bond great. Moore delivers a fantastic performance from the pitch perfect parachute-stunt opening to the inevitable victory in an evil villains base. The film is everything a Bond movie should be, cliche and all. If Goldfinger began defining what a Bond film is then The Spy Who Loved Me finalized that definition. Even in its overblown Bond glory the film finds time to hit some emotional notes, especially when Bond's late wife is brought up and Moore tersely shuts the conversation down. Moore's Bond is at its comic finest, but also some of his cruelest. At one point a henchman is grabbing Bond's tie to keep from falling off a roof. Once he gets the information he needs Moore simply knocks the tie away letting him fall with a stone cold, "What a helpful chap." Let's also give fashion credit where its due. While Connery's grey 3-piece suit in Goldfinger may be the gold standard of Bond fashion, sometimes he went a bit too high fashion to stay classically trendy. Moore will always look sharp for the most part. His long neck meant that the large collars of the 70s don't look out of style and his Savile Row suits couldn't get more British. In one of the the ugliest eras in men's fashion Moore's Bond stayed classic for the most part. Maybe it could seem stuffy at the time, but thanks to Moore Bond looks timelessly stylish in a suit.  Finally, Moore saved the franchise. After OHMSS people thought that Bond wouldn't be able to survive without Connery. Recasting seemed like a mistake, especially since Diamonds performed so much better. Then Moore came along and his take on Bond worked with audiences. People enjoyed watching his Bond, and the franchise stayed relevant. Moonraker might be ridiculous, but it bought full into the Star Wars craze of the time and remained the highest grossing Bond film for decades. No other Bond could have made Moonraker even remotely work. Thanks to Moore's performance its easy to see how he's metaphorically winking at the camera throughout the ridiculousness. At that time it is what Bond needed to succeed and only Moore's Bond could handle that. Moore took a fun approach to Bond that these days is often looked down upon, but while all his films weren't fantastic, and he easily should have stopped before A View to A Kill thanks to his age, what Moore did was truly define James Bond. His own delight in having fun with the movies shines through his performances. Maybe that fun has moved on from action cinema, and maybe that isn't entirely a good thing. Looking at modern Bond films its when the franchise finds that balance between drama and humor that it really works as Skyfall showed, especially when compared to the dour Quantum of Solace and the overly punchy Spectre. Moore might not be your favorite Bond, but he deserves to be remembered as a man who defined what we truly think of Bond overall. There would be no James Bond without Roger Moore.
Bond photo
Why his Bond is better than you think
Yesterday we heard the sad news that Roger Moore had passed away. If you're like me it hit you pretty hard, because if you're like me Roger Moore's James Bond is something you love. A lot of people are not like me. Most don't...

 photo
This guy is this guy--not a real stretch
Last we heard on the Venom movie front, Andrew Garfield was still the defacto Spider-Man, Spider-Man had not shown up in the Marvel cinematic universe, and Sony had not learned it was more lucrative to play nice with Marvel t...

The Dark Crystal photo
Scariest childrens movie ever
Netflix -- because it evidently doesn't have enough things to get excited about -- has announced that it is working with the Jim Henson Company to produce a 10 episode prequel to the classic film The Dark Crystal, called The ...

Star Trek Discovery photo
This is before the original?
After delay and delay and delay we finally have our first look at Star Trek: Discovery. It is very confusing. Check out the trailer and you'll see the cast getting into plenty of scrapes and even some moral quandries (good), ...

Trailer: Bong Joon Ho's Okja looks like a gorgeous, Spielbergian eco-terror adventure

May 18 // Hubert Vigilla
As The Playlist notes, Bong decided to partner with Netflix for his newest film to avoid the distribution and release headaches he experienced working with the Weinsteins on Snowpiercer. (Ugh, ol' Harvey Scissorhands.) Okja's international cast includes An Seo Hyun, Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, Steven Yeun, and Jake Gyllenhaal.  Okja will be out on Netflix and in select theaters on June 28th. Let us know how you think and what that cuddly super-pig creature might taste like in the comments. (I mean, yeah, bacon, but with notes of what, exactly?) [via The Playlist]
Trailer: Okja photo
Tastes f**king good
Bong Joon Ho is one of Korea's most acclaimed and beloved filmmakers, and one of the most respected directors in the world. He made an international name for himself with 2003's Memories of a Murder, and went on to craft The ...

Review: Alien: Covenant

May 06 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]221515:43550:0[/embed] Alien: CovenantDirector: Ridley ScottRelease Date: May 18, 2017Rating: R  Coming from Covenant’s marketing campaign, you might be surprised by the first name in its opening credits: Michael Fassbender. And right off the bat we know that something is wrong, because in the trailer that was pretty cool for two minutes (before being very, very stupid right at the end), you see Fassbender… twice? We’ve been led to believe that Katherine Waterson is our protagonist, and yet we don’t begin the film with her (rather with Fassbender’s David character, from Prometheus). And then we go to Fassbender’s other character, an android named Walter. We aren’t introduced to the cast until after the first exciting thing happens: A solar event damages the ship and forces the crew members from their cryosleep. In the chaos that ensues, we finally meet our Ripley. And it just goes downhill from there. The first thing you see Daniels – the Strong Independent Woman who is going to take down the xenomorph at the end (one would assume) – do is fail to get out of her sleeping pod. You see some guys get out, then they help her. And then her husband, played perplexingly for less than two minutes by James Franco, can’t get out… but no one can get him out either and he burns up in his pod. And then we’re treated to our Strong Independent Woman being sad about her dead husband while watching a video he left her on a tablet. Ugh. But Daniels doesn’t take over; she’s second in command to Billy Krudup’s character, who is sad that no one respects him and thinks it is because he is a man of faith (there is no evidence to support this). Their ship is transporting a couple thousand colonists to their new home, but after the solar incident and the death of their captain, everyone is a little iffy about getting back into their cryogenic pods – especially since Walter tells them there is a not-insignificant chance that this kind of thing could happen again. Conveniently (or not), they receive a distress beacon from a nearby planet that falls perfectly within the habitable zone. It’s weeks away rather than years, so Krudup decides they should go check it out. When hell breaks loose however many minutes later, I found myself thinking not about what I was seeing but about my complete lack of reaction to it. Technically, there’s some good stuff here. There are some genuinely great shots, and the production design in general is very cool. But functionally there’s nothing. You know what emotion you’re supposed to feel because you have an understanding of cinematic language. The music swells, the camera gets shaky, and the editing gets jumping; oh, something tense is going on. But I don’t feel any tension. And then I’m watching Amy Seimetz fire on a baby xenomorph and thinking about why this doesn’t work for me. Even the body horror stuff that sort of worked didn’t really work. [embed]221515:43549:0[/embed] The Chestburster in the original Alien was a genuinely shocking moment. It’s probably one of cinema’s most iconic images, and works on pretty much every level. Alien: Covenant knows that a xenomorph bursting from a chest isn’t good enough anymore, so it has a few much more disturbing ways to birth aliens from a human body. And they’re definitely disgusting, getting the grossed-out reaction from the crowd that they were going for, but the intensity of the violence doesn’t actually serve the plot in any meaningful way. It’s just horrific imagery for the sake of it, there to shock the audience more than the characters in the film. You may appreciate the inventiveness for a moment, but then you have to deal with the CGI xenomorphs that come out and all the gorgeous practical effects that lead up to it can’t stop you from groaning. Or laughing. The audience laughed a lot. They actually clapped a couple of times, usually after the Xenomorph had killed someone in a particularly vicious way. I wondered about that: Why? Was it because the characters were so boring that everyone was just glad they were dead? I mean, I had already forgotten several of the characters by the time the credits rolled, only remembering once I rewatched the trailer just to make sure that it was, in fact, selling the same product that I had just witnessed. The crew on the Covenant probably had names, but I only remember two of them: Daniels and Tennessee. (There is also Walter, but we’ll get to that later.) Tennessee is played by Danny McBride, and he’s got a fairly unpleasant personality, but he’s the only one who actually has personality at all. The characters are largely expendable, and the script seems well aware of that, because it makes no attempt to develop anyone who dies early and only a marginal effort to develop the ones who make it to the third act. The four-plus-minute scene that I mentioned earlier, a slice of which is featured in that trailer, is important because it’s not actually in the movie. Like, at all. And it’s interesting because watching that clip after seeing the film, I saw more character development for some of those people than in the entire two hours of nonsense I sat through. I would assume that it was originally supposed to be part of the film; it seems odd that it wouldn’t be, and it’s the only time James Franco says things while alive. It actually feels like it’s from a completely different movie. They talk about the crew members, but make no reference to all of the other (sleeping) colonists on the ship. Watching that, I would never have known that they weren’t the sole bodies aboard the Covenant. And sure, it makes only marginally less sense than the stuff the characters actually do say, but it leads me to wonder what place it was supposed to serve… and what the movie was supposed to look like. Because I don’t believe for a second that Alien: Covenant is the movie that it was supposed to be. Clearly it’s not the movie that Fox’s marketing department wanted it to be, but I have trouble believing it’s the movie Ridley Scott was trying to make. Then again, I don’t have any idea what movie he was trying to make, because there’s no consistency of any sort. Really, it feels like the movie is fucking with you sometimes. Nowhere is this clearer than the truly bizarre sequences like the one where Michael Fassbender as David (who just-so-happens to be on this planet) is showing Michael Fassbender as Walter how to play the recorder. The camera swings back and forth in a long take as one Fassbender tells the other about “fingering holes,” something that happens for several straight minutes. That sequence is probably as long as the character-building clip I mentioned that didn’t make it into the film… yet somehow the innuendo-filled recorder scene is important? At first, I was convinced that David was going to kill Walter and take over his place at this point, maybe force the recorder through Walter’s throat, but no: He literally just shows him how to play the recorder. It’s just two Michael Fassbenders, like Ridley Scott finally figured out the facial technology that David Fincher has been using for years and wanted to show it off. Look, Fassbender is one of my favorite actors, and if they want to have scenes of just him talking to himself, that’s fine… but this is just stupid. As with most scenes David is in, there seems to be an attempt at philosophy. As I mentioned, Fassbender is the protagonist, both as David and Walter. They’re two very different models of the same Android, and the underlying logic behind their creation could lead to some interesting discussions. There are hints of that, and other things. David talks (constantly) about creation and perfection and humanity and love, but these proclamations aren’t part of a dialogue. It’s like listening to a college freshman who read “Ozymandias” for the first time and has now figured out the meaning of life and really, really wants to tell you about how cool he is. He says vapid things in vain attempts at profundity, and it’s just sad. It’s theoretically an extension of the ideas raised in Prometheus (particularly with regards to creation), but it’s ultimately nothing at all. And that’s Alien: Covenant as a whole. It’s nothing. By the time this review is published, I will likely have forgotten everything about it, except for the feelings it left me with. I wanted it to be good; I wanted that oh-so badly. I wanted Ridley Scott to prove he still had it. But Covenant proves that he does not. This is Scott giving up on his most famous franchise. This is me giving up on him.
Alien: Covenant Review photo
Fool Me Twice
As reviled as it is (justifiably or not), Prometheus deserves a little pass for being unlike its Alien siblings in large part because of its branding. It may be in the same canon, but it’s not pretending to be an Alien ...

Review: The Wall

May 03 // Rick Lash
The Wall photo
Anything but simple
The premise is simple, the film anything but. Iraq, 2007. The war is coming to an end, but maybe someone should have told that to the "bad guys." Two American soldiers. Not just any American soldiers, but a sniper team, ...


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