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8:00 PM on 04.22.2014

Tribeca Review: Maravilla

One of the most significant differences between a documentary and a film based on a true story is that documentaries can be about things that failed. Documentaries about big events are often started during the setup, and it&r...

Alec Kubas-Meyer


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Tribeca Review: Super Duper Alice Cooper photo
Tribeca Review: Super Duper Alice Cooper
by Isabelle Magliari

As a child, my parents lived and breathed Alice Cooper. My father had a particularly terrifying poster of his made-up, screaming face thumbtacked into the cork-board wall of his office that scared me too much to ever listen to his music. Now, at the ripe old age of twenty four, I was excited to see Super Duper Alice Cooper and learn all about the bizarre man who enraptured my parents and haunted my nightmares. Unfortunately, Super Duper Alice Cooper is a rock doc that plods more than it intrigues. And that's not super duper.

[For the remainder of April, Flixist will be covering the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival. Click here for more information and here for all of our coverage.]

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5:00 PM on 04.17.2014

Short trailer for Ukrainian protest documentary Maidan teases tension

Ukrainian filmmaker Sergei Loznitsa's newest documentary Maidan will follow in the footsteps of other uprising and protest documentaries and chronicle the events that happened in Maidan Square in Kiev, Ukraine leading up to ...

Liz Rugg

12:00 PM on 04.10.2014

Trailer for Fed Up takes a look at America's food industries

It's no secret that America has some pretty big food problems. Genetically modified crops, fast food, and of course, tons of sugar. In documentary Fed Up, producer Katie Couric takes a hard look at the big businesses behind ...

Liz Rugg

8:00 PM on 04.04.2014

Trailer: Heaven Adores You - an Elliot Smith documentary

You've probably heard of Elliot Smith before. Maybe you've heard his music, maybe you've heard about how he died, maybe you've heard about the Elliot Smith memorial mural in Los Angles. Heaven Adores You is a documentary abo...

Liz Rugg

SXSW Review: Que Caramba es la Vida photo
SXSW Review: Que Caramba es la Vida
by Nick Valdez

Growing up as a young Latino boy in San Antonio, Texas, I've had quite a few experiences with Mariachi groups. There was a Mariachi club in my high school, and on several occasions, my great uncle would hire groups to sing at his parties. While I know little Spanish myself (being 5th generation Mexican, Spanish, and Native American), there's always been something special about Mariachi music. It helps me feel closer to the culture years of assimilation have separated me from. 

But there's one perspective I shamefully admit I've never considered: the women. How do the women of Mariachi exist within this male dominated field? And as bad as it is to say, men are and have always been a dominant part of Mexican culture stemming from some passed down belief that women are supposed to stay home and raise the children. 

Que Caramba es la Vida paints a new picture of the previously homogeneous term "starving artist" with wonderful results. 

[From March 7th - 15th, Flixist will be providing coverage from South by Southwest 2014 in Austin, TX.  Prepare yourselves for reviews, interviews, features, photos, videos, and all types of shenanigans!]

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SXSW Review: Doc of the Dead photo
SXSW Review: Doc of the Dead
by Nick Valdez

Zombies are some of the most divisive creatures in the horror genre. They've become such a big entity, the zombie film has grown into a genre all its own complete with multiple variations, multiple looks, and multiple medias. Their influence has spread through all sorts of movies, books, comics, videogames, and even television. 

Doc of the Dead seeks to document the story of the zombie genre from beginning to its undead end. Does it succeed in all the right areas? Somewhat, yes. 

[From March 7th - 15th, Flixist will be providing coverage from South by Southwest 2014 in Austin, TX.  Prepare yourselves for reviews, interviews, features, photos, videos, and all types of shenanigans!]

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5:00 PM on 02.25.2014

New, epic trailer for nature documentary Watermark

Watermark is a new feature length documentary about humans' relationships with water, and presumably with our planet on a global scale. Watermark is a collaboration between filmmakers Jennifer Baichwal and Nick de Pencier, a...

Liz Rugg

Review: 12 O'Clock Boys photo
Review: 12 O'Clock Boys
by Alec Kubas-Meyer

I've never felt so totally lost watching a film spoken in my own language as I was watching 12 O'Clock Boys. It's bizarre, really, just how difficult to understand many of these characters are. The only close approximation I can think of would be Trainspotting, but at least I can feel like that one is foreign-ish, since it's from a different country. But 12 O'Clock Boys is not. It's just set in a culture that I am not a part of and have no connection to. In fact, I would venture to guess that 90% of the festival-going public who has seen this film so far can't really relate to the characters it follows.

That would be bad enough in a narrative film; it's potentially ruinous for a documentary.

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1:00 PM on 01.21.2014

The Act of Killing returning to theaters in February

The Act of Killing is a stupendous documentary. It's chilling, gripping, and even slightly humorous. I even liked it enough to put it on my Top 15 of 2013 list, and it's got an Oscar nomination now! It's all with good reason....

Nick Valdez

8:00 AM on 11.18.2013

First trailer for Justin Bieber documentary, Believe

In a spiritual sequel to Justin Bieber's Never Say Never documentary, Believe, oh wait Justin Bieber's Believe sorry, this documentary catalogs the sad and terrible life of the fallen teen idol. Wait, little girls still like...

Nick Valdez

Review: The Pervert's Guide to Ideology photo
Review: The Pervert's Guide to Ideology
by Hubert Vigilla

Slavoj iek is one of the most popular public intellectuals in the world, though maybe in a "big in Japan" sort of way. (Most public intellectuals who aren't Noam Chomsky or a member of the Four Horsemen of New Atheism have "big in Japan" appeal.) If you're not familiar with him or his work, he's a Slovenian philosopher influenced primarily by Karl Marx and Jacques Lacan, the notoriously difficult psychoanalytic thinker.

iek is a cult figure and a divisive one. Hip-to-it humanities students dig on books like Violence or The Sublime Object of Ideology, while iek critics like John Gray publish lengthy and intelligent critiques of his thought in The New York Review of Books. He has been dismissed by some as "the Borat of philosophy," which is kind of true for all the good things and bad things that label entails.

This may sound boring and esoteric, but iek's a fascinating thinker even if you don't buy into what he's saying. One example: he's mentioned in lectures how the national character of a country is manifested in the way they design their toilets. (Yes, that's included after the cut.) It's this kind of thinking -- at once absurd, persuasive, entertaining, and even enlightening -- that drives The Pervert's Guide to Ideology.

[This review was originally posted as part of our coverage of the 2012 DOC NYC film festival. It has been reposted to coincide with the theatrical release of the film.]

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Review: These Birds Walk photo
Review: These Birds Walk
by Hubert Vigilla

Many people who hop into documentaries casually expect a certain amount of overt filmmaker guidance -- voiceover narration, talking head interviews, infographics, archival footage; anything to help impart information. Yet the vérité doc resists those impulses in order to record reality as it happens. Filmmaker guidance occurs through the editing rather than with voice or outside imagery, and I think that's why these kinds of documentaries can be the trickiest to pull off.

I'm starting out by saying this because These Birds Walk is a documentary that really pushes the vérité elements as far as they can go. There is minimal hand holding in the film, and I think that'll put off people who don't watch many documentaries or have an aversion to the vérité style.

And yet even with that caveat, I think These Birds Walk is an extraordinarily beautiful film about runaways and abandoned children in Pakistan. The documentary has a subtle narrative structure (as much as real life can have a narrative structure, at least) that helps accentuate both the heartbreak of their existence and the brief moments of exhilaration when they seem the most alive.

[This review was originally posted as part of our coverage of South by Southwest 2013. It has been reposted to coincide with the theatrical release of the film.]

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

It’s easy to ignore what’s going on half a world away. By the time the Egyptian people were fighting to take down Mohammed Morsi earlier this summer, I had forgotten all about the 2011 revolution. Of course, hearing about it brought back memories, but even those were pretty fuzzy. The whole thing sounded important, but I was too busy dealing with less important things to understand what was going on.

I paid a lot more attention to this summer’s events, and I went into The Square hoping that it would fill the gaps in my knowledge about what had been happening over the past few years. It doesn’t really do that, because it’s mainly focused on the events of 2011 and 2013, but it does give context for what kept bringing these men and women back to Tahrir S   quare. And now I feel like I have a grasp of what has happened.

That may actually be a dangerous thing, empowering the ignorant to believe they aren’t ignorant, but it doesn’t change the fact that if there is going to be a definitive document of the Egyptian revolutions, Jehane Noujaim’s The Square may well be it.

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12:00 PM on 10.11.2013

Dear Mr. Watterson trailer explores Calvin and Hobbes

I actually know a person who doesn't like Calvin & Hobbes. Sometimes I think he may be Satan himself. It's possible. There's just something magic about the boy and his stuffed tiger that never gets old. The strip aren't ...

Matthew Razak

NYFF Review: The Missing Picture photo
NYFF Review: The Missing Picture
by Hubert Vigilla

At last year's New York Asian Film Festival I saw a documentary called Golden Slumbers, which focused on the lost cinema of Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge had destroyed cinema houses and film negatives throughout the country, wiping out an entire cultural history in their criminal attempt to remake the country as a communist utopia. While I had issues with that film and the way it approached it's subject matter, I think that Golden Slumbers gave me a fascinating entry point into Rithy Panh's documentary The Missing Picture.

Both films are about trying to discuss something that isn't there. While it was Cambodian cinema in Golden Slumbers, in The Missing Picture it's the past realities obscured by the Khmer Rouge. Pahn attempts to find the truth of what happened during Pol Pot's regime through spoken text and clay figurines and through film -- since reality isn't available, art will have to suffice and supplant.

[For the next few weeks, we'll be covering the 2013 New York Film Festival, now in its 51st year. Flixist will provide you with reviews, video, news, and features on some of the best films on the festival circuit. To check out all of our coverage of NYFF51, click here.]

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NYFF Review: Tim's Vermeer photo
NYFF Review: Tim's Vermeer
by Hubert Vigilla

Watching Tim's Vermeer, I was sort of reminded of a pair of art documentaries that turn ideas about artists and creation on their ear. There's My Kid Could Paint That, a doc about a purported child prodigy named Marla Olmstead, and there's Who the*$#% Is Jackson Pollock, a doc about a woman who unwittingly buys a purported Jackson Pollock from a thrift shop. The targets of both these films are the art world and certain sacred cows of the art world.

Or at least I was reminded of those films at first. With Tim's Vermeer, Penn & Teller explore the bizarre obsession of Tim Jenison, an inventor who believes he's figured out how Johannes Vermeer was able to paint with such uncanny beauty. Using this technique, he tries to recreate Vermeer's The Music Lesson from life, from scratch.

Thing is, Tim is not an artist, but there are lines between science, innovation, and fine art that blur. I think Tim's Vermeer is a celebration of art and obsession, and it implicitly makes the case that without the latter, the former isn't possible.

[For the next few weeks, we'll be covering the 2013 New York Film Festival, now in its 51st year. Flixist will provide you with reviews, video, news, and features on some of the best films on the festival circuit. To check out all of our coverage of NYFF51, click here.]

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Review: Let the Fire Burn photo
Review: Let the Fire Burn
by Hubert Vigilla

In 1985 there was a tragic stand-off between the extremist Africa-American group MOVE and the city of Philadelphia. At the end, 11 members of MOVE were killed, including five children, and 65 other houses in the area were burned down. It's an ugly injustice right up there with Ruby Ridge and the siege of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco.

Let the Fire Burn chronicles these events, and director Jason Osder approaches them with an interesting formal conceit. He avoids talking heads and new interviews by only using footage from the past -- news reports, older documentaries, a political hearing on the conflict. Apart from a little bit of text, there's no other overt kind of contextualization. It's a bit like an act of archival bricolage, or maybe we can use the term documentary assemblage/assemblage documentary.

Though it's an interesting formal idea, it has its limits, and I think it works against Let the Fire Burn in a fundamental way even though it works well in others.

[This review was originally posted as part of our coverage of the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival. It has been reposted to coincide with the New York theatrical release of the film.]

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Review: After Tiller photo
Review: After Tiller
by Alec Kubas-Meyer

Before After Tiller even began, I thought I knew how I was going to start this review: I was going to comment on the fact the few critics who showed up to a screening documentary about third trimester abortions in the audience were male. Sadly, film criticism is a predominantly male enterprise so perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised, but it seemed wrong somehow. With a subject so focused on women's rights, it seemed wrong that it would be a bunch of guys telling But just as the film began, several female critics showed up and took the wind out of those sails.

As the film progressed and after the credits rolled, I have since come up with a dozen other potential openers, but none of them really felt right. Each was as imperfect as the last and none got to the heart of the fact After Tiller is a movie that made me think, and it made me think hard. With each new interview, my feelings about third trimester abortions (and abortions in general) were formed and reformed. What once seemed at best ethically questionable is far more complicated, and I appreciate the film for explaining that in a clear and level-headed way.

A film blog is not the right place to open up a debate on abortion rights, but there is no way to talk about this film without at least discussing the controversy. My own feelings on the matter (I'm pro-choice) will color everything I'm going to say, but I'm not looking to pick a fight. If you agree/disagree with what I have to say about the film, go right ahead and say something. Let's talk about what the film does right and what it does wrong. I'd love that.

But if you want to make a fundamental point about the legality or ethicality of abortion or make statements about the people who perform or have them, don't. Flixist isn't your soapbox and moral grandstanding from either side of the debate isn't welcome.

With that out of the way, let's get into it. See you on the other side.

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4:00 PM on 09.17.2013

Flix for Short: Lost & Found

This short documentary by Joey Bania profiles an eccentric New Zealand tinkerer and inventor named Blair Somerville. Somerville makes all kinds of things, most of which are made from found or recycled materials, and all of h...

Liz Rugg

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

For most of America, Brandon Darby is not a household name. There are probably pockets of the South which recognize him, but in the grand scheme of things, he's really a nobody. But so are most documentary subjects, and that's often what makes them interesting. Telling the story of these nobodies, showing everyone why they are names worth knowing.

My life may not be enriched by knowing Brandon Darby's name, but his story is an interesting one. His life brought him from a role as a radical anarchist to an FBI informant to a columnist for Andrew Breitbart. It's a bizarre turn of events, and it certainly seems like a story worth telling.

That's where Informant steps in.

[This review originally ran as part of our DOC NYC coverage. It has been reposted to coincide with the theatrical release of the film.]

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NRH's Weekly Analysis: Senna's human drama photo
NRH's Weekly Analysis: Senna's human drama
by Nathan Hardisty

I'm not a petrolhead. My father is pretty heavy into motorsports, Formula One in particular. I've never been grabbed by it myself but he pointed me towards Senna as an example of exactly what grabs people about the sport. From wrestling to football there seems to be layers of meta-narrative piled on, rivalries and underdog stories, that make it worth watching; more worthwhile than perhaps the sport itself. Formula One is about the pinnacle of engineering meeting the extremes of human reaction and dexterity. It too has its narratives and great tales, and Senna deals with a great human drama than can match any historical flick.

See, Senna does something interesting. I've watched it twice now and I've not been flummoxed by terminology or the technical vocabulary that's associated with such a heavy sport. In finishing it I think I did understand exactly why it grabs people, just like any other sport, it's the drama. Characters and genuine tragedies play out over years and years. You begin to be pulled personally into the mixture, just one of the many viewers to a grander human yarn.

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