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5:00 PM on 03.27.2015

Review: Get Hard

The worst criticism a film can get is "harmless." When a film is just "harmless," it's stale, voiceless, and generally fails to make a lasting impression. A harmless film exists, takes 90-100 minutes of your life, and then yo...

Nick Valdez



Review: Dead Rising: Watchtower photo
Review: Dead Rising: Watchtower
by Nick Valdez

Videogames have had a rough time in cinema. Since videogames are such an interactive medium, a film adaptation always misses out on the intimacy of player involvement or the videogame's story struggles to find an identity in a new medium. But most of the time, all of these problems are brought on by folks who clearly aren't aware of the original product and what made it so appealing to fans. 

Films like Need for Speed, DOA: Dead or Alive, or Super Mario Bros., have been fine examples of how these films can go wrong, but Dead Rising: Watchtower is a welcome example of a videogame adaptation doing everything right.

A fun, self-aware, bloody brilliant party that is just as goofy as you'd hope. 

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

It's impossible to talk about The Gunman without discussing Taken. Everything director Pierre Morel ever does is going to be compared to it. And by starring Sean Penn, The Gunman invites those comparisons. Taken made Liam Neeson into an action star. Can The Gunman do the same for Penn? 

It's unfortunate, because whether or not he ever does another action movie, The Gunman is not really Sean Penn's Taken. It may have the same director, but it's definitely not the same film. Other than putting an aging actor in a badass role, Morel has clearly tried to do something different here and prove that he's not a one-hit wonder. (Did you remember that he directed From Paris With Love, starring John Travolta, back in 2010? Yeah, I didn't either.)

I don't know that he's succeeded here, but just because The Gunman won't be revered in the same way Taken is, that doesn't mean it's not worth seeing.

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Review: Ana Maria in Novela Land photo
Review: Ana Maria in Novela Land
by Nick Valdez

It's been a tough time for Latino representation in pop culture. While television has made great strides in casting Latino actors in non-traditional roles to show off a greater range of characterization beyond "gang banger" and "migrant worker," Hollywood is still stuck in the dark ages. But with television shows like Jane the Virgin and the sadly canceled Killer Women making way for telenovelas (basically Spanish soap operas) in the mainstream, it's time for film to follow that path. 

That's where Ana Maria in Novela Land comes in. An well crafted parody of those popular novelas that both celebrates and critiques the genre while never feeling like it's making fun of those who love it. Shame it could've been more. 

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Review: The Divergent Series: Insurgent photo
Review: The Divergent Series: Insurgent
by Alec Kubas-Meyer

I never saw the original Divergent. I'm not a preteen girl or Flixist News Editor Nick Valdez, which means I have to ration my YA intake. I can only handle so many dystopian fantasies about chosen-ones that spend all their time refusing to accept their chosen-oneness. I made my stake, and I stand firmly on the side of Team Katniss.

Even so, I ended up at a screening of Divergent's sequel, Insurgent. Don't ask why or how, because I couldn't tell you. But everything you need to know about my mindset going in comes down to this: Rather than seeking out a copy of the first film as preparation, I just watched its Cinema Sins teardown. Needless to say, I was expecting something pretty terrible.

Well, color me surprised.

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Review: It Follows photo
Review: It Follows
by Alec Kubas-Meyer

I saw It Follows sort of on a whim. I went to two press screenings that day, because it was mostly a day off for me, and I'd heard good things. I figured, why the heck not? Worst case scenario: I have nightmares forever and rue the day. Best case scenario: I get to go home and write a glowing review of a film that transcends genre to become a modern classic.

Two days later, I saw it again. Another email blast went around from the film's PR, and I couldn't say no. I had to see it again. I had to. I've seen dozens (hundreds) of films for review, but I've never gone to multiple screenings of a film before, not just because I wanted to experience it again. Until this one.

It Follows is the first truly great film of 2015. This is the best case scenario.

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Review: Chappie  photo

I really do adore Neill Blomkamp, and his first film, District 9, in particular. Although it doesn’t have as many fans as it did back in 2009, I still hold it up as one of the most spectacular debuts in recent years. His sophomore project, Elysium, may have been a huge disappointment, but it speaks volumes about the love for District 9 that most people will still agree that Blomkamp is a true visionary – albeit one blinded at times by his own ambition.

Chappie is his third attempt, and although it never gets close to the brilliance of District 9, it's far more memorable than Elysium

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Review: Focus photo
Review: Focus
by Jackson Tyler

I love a good con movie. From The Sting to Ocean’s Eleven to Catch Me If You Can, the genre is as formulaic as it is entertaining. The secret to its success is a combination of familiar warmth and detached unpredictability: everyone knows the general beats of a con movie pretty much up to the minute, and it is within that space of comfort that the filmmakers get to play with their twists. Con movies work because the audience knows every trick, and yet they still fall for them.

There also hasn't been a good one in a while. As somebody who hated American Hustle, I'd been feeling the burn waiting for another quality fix of one of my favourite genres since arguably Fast Five, so there was a lot riding on the shoulders of this latest Will Smith vehicle. Luckily, Focus is just good enough to put me back at ease for another year.

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Review: The Tale of Princess Kaguya photo
Review: The Tale of Princess Kaguya
by John-Charles Holmes

Isao Takahata is one of the directors out of Studio Ghibli that seems to be less discussed by fans in the west.  Takahata is responsible for directing some of the most riveting and eerie films to come from the Japanese animation studio including Pom Poko and Grave of the Fireflies.  His most recent directorial work is The Tale of Princess Kaguya, based on classic Japanese folklore, and it just might be one of the most expressive and chilling films from Studio Ghibli in years.

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Review: Shaun The Sheep photo
Review: Shaun The Sheep
by Jackson Tyler

It's hard to believe that Shaun The Sheep is only Aardman's fourth stop motion feature film. The studio initially made its name in the UK with short films in the 70s and 80s such as Creature Comforts, but it was with the release of the first Wallace and Gromit short in 1990 that they truly seared themselves into the fabric of British cultural identity. And in the 25 years since, they've embodied a kind of effortless ubiquity that easily overcomes their relatively sparse output. Aardman is the closest equivalent the UK has to Studio Ghibli, in many ways a remnant of times gone by, desperately carrying the torch for a style of animation that is beloved and resonant, whose flame should long since have flickered out.

Going in, the signs were not exactly pointing in the right direction. A spin-off of a spin-off, the movie is the big screen outing of the popular Kids TV show, for which the target audience skews far younger than Aardman’s earlier family efforts. Combined with a lackluster marketing push and the fact that the film hasn’t even been picked up for distribution in the USA, I went into the movie with a quiet apprehension that Aardman’s creative glory days had passed, and the studio was ready to go softly into that good night.

Much to my delight, I walked out of the cinema with a massive smile on my face and more than a single tear in my eye. The movie's target audience may skew young, but Shaun The Sheep is Aardman's most assured and most mature work yet.

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Review: Fifty Shades of Grey photo
Review: Fifty Shades of Grey
by Nick Valdez

I should start this review by being as frank as possible. I'm not really sure who this review is for. With Fifty Shades of Grey, you'll fall into either one of two camps. You're either planning to see it (or have already seen it) regardless of what I'm going to say for the next couple of paragraphs, or you're going to avoid the film altogether thanks to the esoteric nature of its erotic subject matter. 

But for those of you who have fallen to the wayside and are a bit curious thanks to the shape this pop culture juggernaut has taken, don't follow up on that feeling. Because if you're willing to sit through this two hour slog without heeding my warning, you're also "fifty shades of f**ked up."

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Review: Boy Meets Girl photo
Review: Boy Meets Girl
by Alec Kubas-Meyer

Boy Meets Girl is an antique magic mirror. The kind of thing you'd see in a movie.

In an old, cobweb-filled antique shop, the camera slowly pans up an old, cracked and unpolished mirror. It's not really much to look at, but you're inexplicably drawn to it. And in that broken, worn out mirror, you see a true reflection of yourself, of who you are and what you hold dear. Of your beliefs and feelings about your fellow humans. Of what you believe and what matters to you. 

You might not like what you see. I still don't know if I did.

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Review: Seventh Son photo
Review: Seventh Son
by Megan Porch

Many moons ago, at San Diego Comic Con 2013, my friend and I were sitting through all the panels in the infamous Hall H waiting to get to the Marvel movie panel. One of the panels we sat through showed some footage and brought out the cast for a silly looking fantasy movie called Seventh Son. By the end of that day, I was so tired that all I remembered about it was that Kit Harington seemed really embarrassed to be on the panel talking about it.

Fast forward to two years later, the same friend and I saw Seventh Son over this past weekend.

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Review: Jupiter Ascending photo
Review: Jupiter Ascending
by Matthew Razak

I am a Wachowski defender. I have enjoyed if not down right liked every film they've made. Yes, even the second two Matrix films. If you insult Speed Racer I'll flip some tables. That movie was a kinetic and frantic masterpiece that got trashed for no good reason. Cloud Atlas was a challenging work to tackle and they did a commendable job putting it all together. Read the book and watch the film and you'll be blown away. They are very skilled directors.

All right, calm down, Matt.

So despite Jupiter Ascending getting bumped from a major summer blockbuster to a lowly February release, and despite the terrible word-of-mouth it was receiving I was wildly hopeful for the film. It looks visually stunning and other than Channing Tatum's eyeliner I was all in for some more Wachowski greatness. 

I am no longer a Wachowski defender. 

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Review: The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out of Water photo
Review: The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out of Water
by Nick Valdez

This may come as a surprise to you, but Spongebob Squarepants is still the juggernaut of a cartoon it was when it first debuted back in 1999. Never ceasing to keep kids' attention thanks to its unique characters and ever evolving comedy. Most importantly, it just has a lot of fun. 

I've been excited for Sponge Out of Water for some time. A sequel to a ten year old film, Water looked ambitious, full of crazy art styles, and once again had all of the fun that the series is known for. Good thing the film mostly lives up to that even if the humor has changed from what I remember. 

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Review: The Loft photo
Review: The Loft
by Megan Porch

I had literally no expectations going into this movie. In fact, I had barely even heard of it, so usually, when I go in with no idea what to expect, I'm pleasantly surprised and have a good time. All I knew about The Loft was that it was about a couple of guys who wanted to have a secret apartment where they could go to cheat on their wives. When they find a dead woman in the apartment, they all begin accusing each other of being the murderer.

Sounds like a neat idea for a thriller, right?

Wrong. Absolutely, completely wrong.

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Review: A Most Violent Year photo
Review: A Most Violent Year
by Nick Valdez

I had no idea what A Most Violent Year was before my screening. This was even before the smaller, limited release managed to gain traction and before I realized how good the cast assembled was. With little to no advertising, it was swallowed up by the big films vying for awards during this more difficult season. 

But now that the season is over, and A Most Violent Year is finally opening for a wider release, I can finally admit how wrong I was for ignoring it for so long. A Most Violent Year is precise, intelligent, and full of powerful moments. 

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Review: The Boy Next Door photo
Review: The Boy Next Door
by Matthew Razak

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 that looks like he's in his late 20s. The kind of film you'd expect to see a cast of CW stars trying to break out into film in.

There was a chance that because of that it landed in the awesomely camp area of bad film. A kind of Swimfan or Cruel Intentions. These films aren't good, but man are they just fun to watch because of how committed they are. Sadly, despite some very valiant efforts, The Boy Next Door doesn't reach that true level of all out commitment to bad that it really needs.

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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: Song of the Sea photo
Review: Song of the Sea
by Megan Porch

Anybody who knows me knows that seals are my favorite animal, so when I started seeing advertisements for Song of the Sea, I knew I had to check it out. Cartoon Saloon had already impressed me with its first feature film, Secret of Kells, so I had a feeling this movie would at least be on par with that one.

Song of the Sea stands out in a 3D obsessed animation industry as an entirely 2D, hand drawn film. It harkens back to older animated films, while still being fresh and unique, and its story is sure to pull on your heartstrings.

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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: Taken 3 photo
Review: Taken 3
by Sean Walsh

Taken was great. Taken 2 was...not as good. When I heard that Taken 3 was going to exist, I sighed, because I knew, knew, that I'd feel obligated to finish what I started.

So, on Saturday morning, I sat with ticket in hand and prepared myself for 109 minutes of Liam Neeson stepping back into the shoes of Bryan Mills. I knew it could fall anywhere in-between great or...not as good, and I was prepared to give it a fair chance.

How'd things shake out? Let's find out.

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