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9:00 AM on 09.02.2014

Review: As Above, So Below

So, every now and then, I get really excited about a movie from its trailer (which is the point of a trailer, of course). My top three, in no particular order, would probably be 21 Jump Street, Watchmen, and Guardians of...

Sean Walsh




Review: Kundo: Age of the Rampant photo
Review: Kundo: Age of the Rampant
by Alec Kubas-Meyer

When I decide to watch a movie, it is usually based on two thing:

  1. Whether or not the press picture implies some kind of action.
  2. The runtime.

While there's obviously some leeway on the first one, once a movie pushes past the two hour mark I tend to weigh my interest more carefully. I'll take a random chance on an 80 minute movie or a 100 minute. But a movie that's 135 minutes? That's past the limits of the "Why not?" attitude. I'm not sure what it says about my psychology, but that's the way it is.

The press notes for Kundo show a bald man wielding two giant butcher knives (check!) and gave a 100 minute runtime (check!). That sounded right up my alley.

But while it definitely has the action I was looking for, the runtime on the press notes was off by 35 minutes. That was an unwelcome surprise.

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Review: The November Man photo
Review: The November Man
by Matthew Razak

The fact that Pierce Brosnan was returning to spy movies pretty much made me one of the most excited people around. The November Man would be a harder, R-rated James Bond with some good action and maybe a little throwback feel to the spy films of the 90s. I'd be quite happy with even the most mediocre of old-school thrillers with that set up.

It says a lot that I am not happy with this movie at all, not even with Pierce Brosnan.

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Review: Sin City - A Dame to Kill For photo
Review: Sin City - A Dame to Kill For
by Sean Walsh

Sin City has always had a special place in my heart. Way back in 2005, when the first film came out, I was in my senior yearo f high school, taking Film as Art. One of our assignments was to write a paper on a film we see in theaters, complete with ticket stub stapled to the front page as proof. As Sin City was in theaters, and I was a red-blooded eighteen-year-old, I thought "Heck, a movie based on a comic I've never read full of dudes that eat bullets for breakfast and hot, young thing Jessica Alba playing a stripper by the guy who made such films as Spy Kids? Sign me up!" Unfortunately, everybody was too busy or too disinterested to take me. With no reasonable options left, I asked my grandmother. She said yes, and ended up loving it ("That Marv, he was like a real superhero!). That sparked a tradition of going to see movies together with my grandmother. Some were racy (I can say I'm probably one of the only people in the world that's seen Jason Segel's penis with my grandmother, on the big screen at least), some were not, but we haven't seen a movie yet that she hasn't enjoyed.

Sadly, this year she came up to visit several weeks before Sin City: A Dame to Kill For came out, and sadder yet, I was on vacation while she was in town. So, with a heavy heart, I went to see the film I've been waiting nine years for with my best pal Patrick instead. Could it possibly match up to the sentimental and nostalgic factors I associated with the first film? Read on and find out!

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Review: Cam2Cam photo
Review: Cam2Cam
by Alec Kubas-Meyer

In past reviews, I've written about the problems with poor subtitles on foreign films. Improper use of language serves as a distraction from the comedy or drama and makes the experience worse. I love the English language. It's my lifeblood and my livelihood. So when I see it mangled, I get angry. When it comes to foreign films, I can at least forgive the fundamental language barrier. It's the reality of a love of foreign films, and I am willing to cut some slack.

But though Cam2Cam takes place in Bangkok, the film is in English and was ostensibly written by someone whose first language was English. I say ostensibly because I have trouble believing that's true.

Then again, what was I supposed to expect from a movie called "Cam2Cam"?

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Review: When the Game Stands Tall photo
Review: When the Game Stands Tall
by Matthew Razak

I'm a sucker for sports movies. You give me a gang of lovable underdogs, a few training montages and a triumphant final game and I'm in your pocket. It's just so easy to get caught up in a sport film even when their bad. They hit all the right points that we love and when done even remotely right you at least feel a little bit of joy when those underdogs win the big game. What I'm saying is that it is really hard to make a sports film that you just stop caring about. 

When the Games Stands Tall does this. Not only does it go on for way longer than it should, but it doesn't grab you in the first place. It's as if the filmmakers had never seen a sports film before. No, check that. It's as if they had never seen any movie before.

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Review: The Giver photo
Review: The Giver
by Alec Kubas-Meyer

It's been more than 20 years since Lois Lowry's The Giver first hit shelves, and more than a decade since I first read it. It's one of those transformative books, and before the recent YA trend towards totalitarianism, the first exposure most people had to dystopias. It's not really 1984 for children (because it's not really for children, despite everyone I know having reading before middle school), but what it says about the world and about imagination is formative for a lot of people. It definitely was for me.

When I heard it was being adapted, I wasn't excited about it, but I also wasn't totally put off. It's a story about imagery, and actually seeing some of the images that are discussed in the book (and the way they affect the view of a colorless, lifeless world) struck me as potentially compelling.

But as I sat in the theater, I realized that I was wrong: The Giver isn't about imagery at all.

It's about imagination.

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Review: The Expendables 3 photo
Review: The Expendables 3
by Nick Valdez

The Expendables could've been a good series had it been advertised differently. First touted as a return to form for aging 80s action stars as they wax nostalgic about their glory days, The Expendables turned out to be a greyish blob that somehow muddied up the colorful personalities which inhabited it.

Then the same thing happened in the sequel. The actors got a bit more room to play, but as the cast ballooned, the little joy to be had was smothered by more generic shooty bang bang. With the advertising for The Expendables 3 copying Fast & Furious 6's font, Stallone making a big deal about dropping Bruce Willis from the cast, and adding a bunch of relative nobodies to the roster, the third film looked to follow in the same pattern. 

This better be the last one. 

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Review: Let's Be Cops photo
Review: Let's Be Cops
by Sean Walsh

I love the Buddy Cop genre. Lethal Weapon, Beverly Hills Cop, 21 Jump Street (and its sequel), even Hollywood Homicide. I also love The New Girl. Imagine my surprise and delight when two of the leads from The New Girl were going to appear in a buddy cop movie! Just like 21 Jump Street before it, I loved the trailer for Let's Be Cops every time I saw it (and considering how many times I watched it on YouTube, that's saying something).

Did Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans, Jr. deliver the goods or did they show the best stuff in the trailer? Read on to find out!

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Review: Into the Storm photo
Review: Into the Storm
by Matthew Razak

Into the Storm is one of those movies that you wonder where it came from. Natural disaster films are so early 2000s and this one feels particularly ancient. Clearly the thinking was that with all the super storms hitting us the time was ripe to pick the genre again, but it really isn't and Into the Storm isn't the film to do it in.

While you don't have to do much to be a competent natural disaster movie there are a few rules. The biggest one is not to actively insult people who have actually been affected by cataclysmic disasters. Into the Storm fails at this, and while it may succeed at a few other things because of that it fails completely. 

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Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles photo
Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
by Matthew Razak

OK, we've all seen the new look of the Ninja Turtles, and if you haven't there it is up there in the header. It's hideous. They look really weird and totally ugly. That doesn't change in this movie. We're just all going to have to live with it (unless the movie flops and we don't get a direct sequel). Thanks to that I won't be discussing their look anymore. It just is.

How does one reboot a franchise that's already been rebooted repeatedly in multiple formats. There's one key factor that makes the Ninja Turtles work. It isn't the ninja factor or the mutant turtle factor or the teenage factor. What makes it work is that the turtles are actually interesting characters with a family dynamic that always pays off. Rewatch the original live action film. It's fun, but it's also a fantastic movie because they treat the turtles as real characters and when that's done it's easy to see why the franchise is eternal.

Of course a film produced by Michael Bay doesn't exactly hint at strong character development, does it?

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Fantasia Review: WolfCop photo
Fantasia Review: WolfCop
by Alec Kubas-Meyer

Puns are a lot more interesting than most people give them credit for. While they're exceedingly easy to come up with and throw into literally every conversation ever, they're much harder to actually pull off.

The title for the WolfCop trailer on YouTube (embedded below) is "Here comes the Fuzz." You get it? Because they call cops "The Fuzz." It's like Hot Fuzz, except that name isn't a pun. "Here comes the Fuzz" is an example of an acceptable pun. It's fine, you might chuckle, but then you get on with your day. It doesn't resonate. "Dirty Harry... Only Hairier," the poster's tagline (seen above), is a step in the right direction.

But the Fantasia description for WolfCop starts with the most brilliant phrase ever written by a human: "No one is above the claw." And that is something else entirely. That is freaking hilarious, and 50% of why I watched WolfCop, a decision that was 100% the best thing I could have done with those 79 minutes.

[The Fantasia International Film Festival is currently taking place in Montreal through August 7th. As it begins to wind down, we'll be reviewing some of the interesting things we saw there. For more information, head here. For all of our coverage, go here.]

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Fantasia Review: Live (Raivu) photo
Fantasia Review: Live (Raivu)
by Alec Kubas-Meyer

To those who know it, Noboru Iguchi's name brings up a very particular image. In fact, when people with only a tangential knowledge of Japanese cinema, Iguchi's work is probably the first thing they think of. It's exactly the kind of schlocky, over-the-top stuff everyone everyone ascribes to Japanese cinema as a whole. He's the mind behind RoboGeishaMutant Girls Squad, Karate Robo Zaborgar, and Zombie Ass: Toilet of the Dead. You've probably seen at least one of those on Netflix as a joke.

His newest film, Live, is still weird and crazy and doesn't skimp on the red stuff, but it is also the closest Iguchi has ever come to making a movie for the masses.

[The Fantasia International Film Festival is currently taking place in Montreal through August 7th. As it begins to wind down, we'll be reviewing some of the interesting things we saw there. For more information, head here. For all of our coverage, go here.]

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Review: Behaving Badly photo
Review: Behaving Badly
by Nick Valdez

If you've followed my reviews here on Flixist, you'll realize that I'm particularly drawn to smaller VOD projects in between the big releases for any bevy of reasons. Whether it's because it features pretty ladies, pretty gentleman, or pretty rocks, I like taking gambles and possibly stumbling on something great that I would've missed otherwise. 

Unfortunately, sometimes I gamble and lose. I wanted to review Behaving Badly because it stars a few people I'm interested in, and figured they'd never intentionally choose something awful for themselves. Boy, was I wrong. 

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

I should admit this outright. Whether it's the nature of my job, or the seemingly endless deluge of Marvel Studios news that we write on everyday, I've succumbed to Marvel fatigue. That's why I was instantly drawn to Guardians of the Galaxy. From the first trailer on it promised something entirely unique within the Marvel formula, and although it too is a stepping stone within Marvel Studios' grander scheme, it stood out for good reasons. 

With a quirky director whose only done smaller projects, a star studded cast painted green and voicing things like animated raccoons and trees, its 70s rock inspired soundtrack, and its complete foray into comic book oddities, Guardians of the Galaxy could've easily been Marvel's biggest failure.

Good thing it's not. 

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Review: Hercules photo
Review: Hercules
by Nick Valdez

I've been anticipating Hercules' release for a while now. I love Dwayne Johnson, and want to see him in more leading roles that aren't just kid films. I figure he's got the charisma and talent just buried somewhere in there and needs the proper outlet.

So when the first trailer for Hercules looked okay, I was stoked. It looked dumb, but the right kind of dumb. The more I waited, the more I ignored all the red flags. It's directed by Brett Ratner (who once screwed up the X-Men films so bad, it took them four more movies to recover), there were no screenings prior to its release (which usually signals a bad film), and each trailer after the first one showed off the same scenes (which means they're the only good ones). But I desperately wanted Hercules to be entertaining. Johnson deserves this after all his years of work. 

Unfortunately, Hercules somehow makes "The Rock Yelling at Things While Shirtless" a bad idea. 

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Review: Kill Team photo
Review: Kill Team
by Hubert Vigilla

The war in Afghanistan is the longest military conflict in which the United States has been involved. The operation is nowhere near as successful as hoped, which is part of the reality of fighting a war in Afghanistan, a lesson that the Soviet Union learned in the 1980s. Much of the logistic difficulty comes from the terrain and the size of the country. For the US, this difficult was compounded by its attempts to rebuild infrastructure and develop trust with the civilian population. Part of the issue here may be some of the troops themselves.

The documentary Kill Team chronicles one instance of egregious war crimes that US troops perpetrated against the people of Afghanistan. One army unit played a game in which they'd murder innocent civilians and pretend that they were enemy combatants.

One of the most chilling things about Kill Team is the matter-of-fact way that one of the troops characterizes these kinds of war crimes: it happens way more than we think, they were just the ones who got caught.

[This review was original posted as part of our coverage of the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival. It is being posted to coincide with its theatrical release.]

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

The Purge came and went without much fanfare. It had an interesting premise (which spawned the #CrimeDay Twitter game here on Flixist), but wasted it with a by-the-numbers home invasion film. When The Purge: Anarchy was first announced (along with the sentiment that we'd get a new Purge film every year), I was initially against the idea of yet another mediocre franchise getting run into the ground. 

But, Anarchy has something no other Blumhouse Productions film has (the company that's responsible for Paranormal Activity and Insidious): Quality. For once, I found myself okay with getting more of the same series. 

If every Purge film can be as good as Anarchy going forward, then we're in for a hell of a good time. 

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Review: Boyhood photo
Review: Boyhood
by Matthew Razak

12 years of shooting, watching every actor grow older and change along with the times and the styles. That's how long it took for Richard Linklater to create a film  about life (a boy's life to be precise). Many films have of course been made about life -- it's a pretty big topic after all -- but Boyhood has a leg up since Linklater had the incredible patience to allow his actors to grow up while making the film. It seems like a gimmick, but that gimmick is what makes Boyhood so incredibly special.

Of course filming your actors on sporadic days over the course of 12 years (39 days of shooting to be exact) is incredibly risky, especially if your movie doesn't work. What an immense waste of time and who knows what could go wrong. Thankfully Boyhood is not a failure by an stretch of the imagination, but instead an endlessly interesting study on how the banalities of life are the most important moments. 

[This review was originally posted as part of our coverage of the SXSW 2014. It  is being reposted to coincide with the film's theatrical release.]

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NYAFF Review: Aberdeen photo
NYAFF Review: Aberdeen
by Alec Kubas-Meyer

You never know what you’re going to get from a Pang Ho-Cheung film. In 2010, you got an ultraviolent slasher with Dream Home. In 2012, you got uproarious sex comedy Vulgaria. Before and between, you’ve got any other number of genres and genre twists. Each and every Pang Ho-Cheung film is a new and exciting experience.

Aberdeen is no exception. With his latest film, Pang Ho-Cheung takes a stab at the family drama and delivers a beautiful, emotional slice of life.

[For the next month, we will be covering the 2014 New York Asian Film Festival and the Japan-centric Japan Cuts. Click here for more information, and check back here and here for all of the Asian film coverage you can shake a stick at.]

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NYAFF Review: Firestorm 3D photo
NYAFF Review: Firestorm 3D
by Alec Kubas-Meyer

I wish I’d seen Firestorm 3D a week and a half earlier. In my review of The White Storm, I talked extensively about expectations. The film had been sold as X and turned out to be Y, which was good but not really what I was looking for. I wanted constant bombastic intensity, but instead I got occasional intensity with long stretches of drama. I should have enjoyed that, but my expectations colored everything.

Hoping to keep myself from being disappointed again, I went into Firestorm 3D without expectations. From the name, I obviously made some assumptions about the content, but I wanted to avoid going down the same road. 

And I made the right decision. Others went in with certain expectations and came out disappointed. I came out elated, because Firestorm 3D is exactly what I wanted The White Storm to be.

[For the next month, we will be covering the 2014 New York Asian Film Festival and the Japan-centric Japan Cuts. Click here for more information, and check back here and here for all of the Asian film coverage you can shake a stick at.]

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NYAFF Review: Cold Eyes photo
NYAFF Review: Cold Eyes
by Alec Kubas-Meyer

Some of my favorite movies are ones that make me want to go and do something after the lights come up. Some films make me want to travel the world or shave my head or something. Others take professions and make them seem so much cooler than whatever it is I’m doing.

Cold Eyes, for example, made me want to become a spy. Which is sort of weird, because it’s not about spies. It’s about cops.

[For the next month, we will be covering the 2014 New York Asian Film Festival and the Japan-centric Japan Cuts. Click here for more information, and check back here and here for all of the Asian film coverage you can shake a stick at.]

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