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11:00 AM on 01.23.2015

Review: The Boy Next Door

I'm not actually sure who I'm writing this review for. Anyone whose seen the trailers for The Boy Next Door has undoubtedly made their made up about it. It's a trashy stalker film with Jennifer Lopez seducing a teenager ...

Matthew Razak


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Review: R100 photo

Thanks to R100, we know the proper recipe for a shirt: 24 hours in a slow-cooker, with red wine sauce, celery and carrots. Not because the film involves shirt eating (not directly at least), but because it forced Twitch founder/editor Todd Brown to eat his own shirt. 

Before it screened at Fantastic Fest late last year, he made a bold claim, if any film was half as crazy as Sion Sono's Why Don’t You Play in Hell?, he’d eat his shirt.

R100 called Brown's bluff, and he made good on his promise. It's fitting, really, because that's exactly the kind of thing someone in R100 might be forced to do.

[This review was originally posted as part of our coverage of the 2014 New York Asian Film Festival. It is being reposted to coincide with the theatrical/VOD release.]

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Review: Blackhat photo
Review: Blackhat
by Matthew Razak

I am a big Michael Mann fan. Collateral might be one of my favorite films. The guy just knows how to direct. You can be guaranteed at least one breath taking, though provoking shot in one of his films. This is especially true when he's shooting in a city. The guy just knows how to create an atmosphere that defines whatever city he's in.

Unfortunately for Blackhat a few good camera angles doesn't save it from being anything more than an over written, generic thriller where exposition is the name of the game. Mann can only make a bunch of people looking at computer screens stay interesting for so long. 

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Review: Two Days, One Night photo
Review: Two Days, One Night
by Alec Kubas-Meyer

Sometimes you watch a movie and you immediately know how you're going to feel about it. There's something about the atmosphere that it creates that just strikes you. You know exactly what the film is trying to do, and you know how you'll react to that. I felt that way about Two Days, One Night. Right off the bat, I could tell that it was going to be far too long, painfully slow, and focused on its least interesting character.

I also knew that, for some reason, I was still going to like it.

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: Big Eyes photo
Review: Big Eyes
by Matthew Razak

Everyone, I'm about to shock you to your core. Big Eyes is a Tim Burton film and it is quite possible that the color black doesn't appear once. Shades of greys and shadows, yes, but the Gothic trendings of the director are almost completely lost in this film. Except for the doe-eyed "Big Eyes" that the subject of the film, Margaret Keane, paints there's almost no hint of Burton.

Yet it is a Burton film, through and through. Full of the weird and twisted story lines, trippy asthetics and slightly zonked out performance. It's Burton turned real life, and it surprisingly works.

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Review: American Sniper photo
Review: American Sniper
by Matthew Razak

Clint Eastwood is easily one of the best directors in Hollywood so him tackling the incredible story of Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle is something to get pretty excited about. We already know he has the war movie chops thanks to Letters from Iwo Jima. 

American war heroes are a tricky business in this day and age. We know too much of the truth of war thanks to it being beamed into our houses and on the news nightly. It isn't all heroes and perfect endings where the good guys win. American Sniper tries to tackle this modern day contradiction of what a war hero is, but can it find out when all it wants to do is shoot things?

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Review: Unbroken photo
Review: Unbroken
by Matthew Razak

Unbroken is the first film directed by Angelina Jolie. That alone has given it a lot of hype, but it's easy to understand why it would be pushing at Oscars anyway. It's base on the true story of a WWII hero and Oscar just eats up historical war dramas like that. Legendary and Universal clearly are setting this up as Oscar bait.

There's a difference, however, between deserving an Oscar and desperately trying for one. Unbroken is desperately trying for one. "I should be an Oscar film," it screams without actually being one. Like a spoiled rich kid it believes it deserves something that it hasn't earned.

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Review: Selma photo
Review: Selma
by Matthew Razak

There's something to be said for perfect timing. Would Selma be one of the best movies of the year if it had released in January? Yes. But coming out now makes it a true masterpiece of its time. As we try to wrap our heads around Eric Garner and Ferguson here comes a movie about one of the most pivotal moments in the civil rights movement. It is a film for our times and given the times it will leave you floored the second the credits roll.

It is also exactly how you should make a "bio pic." A slice in time, not a checkbox of a person's life. This is a film that captures Martin Luther King Jr. by giving us a look at one instance and extrapolating from there. If it weren't for the stunning achievement of Boyhood this would be the greatest film of the year. 

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Review: Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb photo
Review: Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb
by Matthew Razak

I don't think anyone thought we'd be seeing a franchise born when Night at the Museum first hit. The movie was plenty fun and surprisingly creative with a solid message that really didn't need to be revisited. Then it was, and it was OK. And now it is yet again with Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb.

Of course overshadowing almost all of this is the fact that Secret of the Tomb will be the last time we get to see Robin Williams on the big screen in a new movie. This is his last role to hit theaters and for that, no matter what the quality of the film is, we should be thankful. One more chance to see him work his magic is well worth watching any film.

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Review: The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies photo
Review: The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies
by Matthew Razak

When Peter Jackson announced that he'd be stretching The Hobbit into three movies I was a bit wary, but excited. While the book itself could have easily been put into one, maybe two, films there's enough lore in the world to fluff our three movies. Still, it seemed like a stretch. However, after I enjoyed both the first and second films -- fully acknowledging that they were not as good as the original LotR films -- I was all set to watch an over two hour action sequence take place in the third.

Really that's all that's left. What amounts to a pretty minor part of the book after (spoilers) the death of Smaug is now stretched out into a full film. Two hours of Middle Earth action sounds pretty good to me, especially after enjoying the first two. I should have known that it isn't action that makes Middle Earth awesome.

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

I remember distinctly when Jon Stewart left The Daily Show for three months to head to Jordan to shoot his directorial debut. It was an interesting time both because John Oliver took his spot (and did an excellent job there) but also because I was just so curious what he was making. Jon Stewart making a movie in Jordan? What?

And I immediately knew that I had to see it whenever it was finally available. Initial reception was a bit tepid, but it didn't matter. I had to see it for myself and give it a fair shake. The Daily Show plays a significant enough role in my life that I felt I owed its host that much.

Fortunately, Rosewater is something worth watching.

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Review: The Theory of Everything photo
Review: The Theory of Everything
by Megan Porch

Every year, there is at least one biographic film about someone who accomplished great things in his or her life, whether it's something artistic, scientific, or otherwise. This year's biopic of note is The Theory of Everything, which tells the story of Professor Stephen Hawking and his ex-wife, Jane Hawking.

Based on Jane Hawking's book, Traveling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen, the film touches a bit on Hawking's work as a scientist, but focuses more on his relationship with Jane and how things change as their relationship and his disease begin to develop. It is an intimate series of moments of their lives together.

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Review: Big Hero 6 photo
Review: Big Hero 6
by Matthew Razak

When Disney scooped up Marvel they picked up a ton of comic book history and properties. You had to guess they wouldn't use them all in the same way (i.e. massive blockbusters), and Big Hero 6 is the first Marvel film to break out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In fact Big Hero 6, a Disney Animation production, doesn't even have the Marvel logo before it. This is not a Marvel film, it is a Disney one.

For that we can be quite thankful. Disney has finally gotten its footing in the animated world once again and following Frozen expectations couldn't be higher for the studio's next animated film. While I seriously doubt that Big Hero 6 will inspire the crazed fervor that Frozen did, Disney's recaptured magic his still here, elevating a kid's superhero movie to something more. 

Also, Baymax.

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Review: Why Don't You Play in Hell? photo
Review: Why Don't You Play in Hell?
by Alec Kubas-Meyer

Last year, Japan Cuts played Sion Sono's Bad Film, a project filmed back in 1995 but not finished until 2012. In my non-review of the film, I unequivocally called it a masterpiece, and I stand by every word. It is a labor of love that throws caution to the wind in order to just make a freaking movie, everyone and everything else be damned. This is Sion Sono's world and you just have to deal with it.

Why Don't You Play in Hell? is a celebration of that worldview. And it's every bit as brilliant as you could hope.

[This review was original posted as part of our coverage of the 2014 New York Asian Film Festival. It is being reposted to coincide with the film's theatrical release.]

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

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

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

So let’s get into it. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And it's going to get people talking.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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