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9:00 AM on 12.19.2014

Review: Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb

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, an...

Matthew Razak


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Review: Annie photo
Review: Annie
by Nick Valdez

Remakes are always at a disadvantage. Regardless of the final product's quality, it will always be compared to the film it's adapting. Remakes usually are stuck with two options: Either pay homage to the original and make fans happy or create something brand new and remake a film in name only. It's sort of a damned if you, damned if you don't situation. 

Either path you choose will rub someone, somewhere the wrong way. In a situation where you can't possibly win, it's totally understandable how Annie tries to have as much fun as it can as it attempts to blend both new and old.

But in trying to please everyone, Annie pleases none. 

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Review: After the Fall photo
Review: After the Fall
by Sean Walsh

Every now and then, I opt to review a movie I know next to nothing about. Pretty much all I knew about After the Fall was that it had Wes Bentley of American Beauty, The Hunger Games, and most recently, American Horror Story fame turning to crime in order to support his family. The movie poster features him with a gun in front of a giant American flag backdrop with the tagline "Desperate Times Call For Desperate Measures," so I was expecting a big action flick full of explosions that moved at a break-neck pace.

I got something else entirely, and you know what? It wasn't half-bad.

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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: Exodus: Gods and Kings photo
Review: Exodus: Gods and Kings
by Nick Valdez

Folks don't know this about me, but I have a soft spot for biblical stories. Having been raised half Roman Catholic, half who gives a hooey, I have an abundant knowledge of Christian bible quotes and intricacies. Regardless of your beliefs, you have to admit the Bible is full of fantastical, involving stories ripe for big budget adaptations like these. 

It's really the simplicity of it all that makes it entertaining. Bad guys are bad, good guys are unequivocally good, and some invisible force is guiding everyone's decisions. But when that guiding force doesn't know when to reign it in, you get Exodus: Gods and Kings. 

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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 limited theatrical release.]

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Review: Horrible Bosses 2 photo
Review: Horrible Bosses 2
by Matthew Razak

You know when something is funny you just have to do it again, right? That's the logic with Horrible Bosses 2. The original film actually had an appealing cast that worked well together pulling the film out of cliche and into funny. Seems reasonable to assume they could do it again.

In fact so reasonable that they brought everyone back (well everyone who survived the first). Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day all jump back into roles that were never meant to be jumped back into. Can the trio elevate another film?

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Review: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night photo
Review: A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
by Megan Porch

 Every once in a while, a film comes along that takes a stale genre and makes it completely new and cool again. Ana Lily Amirpour's debut film, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, is the vampire film that makes the creatures of the night scary and sexy again. After years of Twilight, it's so refreshing to see a vampire that doesn't sparkle in the sun or pretend to be a high school student.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night tells the story of a vampire (Sheila Vand) who lives in an Iranian ghost town called Bad City. The town is full of junkies, pimps, and prostitutes, and the vampire sets her sights on the worst the population has to offer. She is a solitary creature until she meets Arash (Arash Marandi), a young man who takes care of his heroin addicted father.

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SAIFF Review: Killa (The Fort) photo
SAIFF Review: Killa (The Fort)
by Alec Kubas-Meyer

I never moved when I was growing up. I knew people who moved once or twice, and then I knew others in military families and the like who would come and go almost annually. In a small town with a small school, that made a difference. I always felt bad for those kids, since they were constantly making and losing friends, especially in the age before Facebook and the advent of eternal digital communication. And I can appreciate how hard it is to be the new kid in the new place.

But just because someone is in an unfortunate position doesn't give them the right to be a jerk.

[This film is screening as part of the 2014 South Asian International Film Festival. More information can be found here or at the official SAIFF website.]

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SAIFF Review: Dukhtar photo
SAIFF Review: Dukhtar
by Alec Kubas-Meyer

Most of the modern foreign films that I watch are from countries that are reasonably similar to the United States. People live in apartments and drive sleek cars. They use smartphones and credit cards. They have the internet. And so even if I'm confused by a particular custom or some broader cultural experience, I can always fall back on the knowledge that their environments are not too different from mine.

Which makes it all the more shocking to see a film like Dukhtar, Pakistan's official Oscar entry for the year. Though it takes place in modern times, the environment is unlike anything I've ever experienced. It's something truly foreign.

It's also quite good.

[This film is screening as part of the 2014 South Asian International Film Festival. More information can be found here or at the official SAIFF website.]

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Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 photo
Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1
by Nick Valdez

The Hunger Games has come a long way. From humble meh-ish beginnings, to a sequel that, well, caught fire in theaters, the films have gotten increasingly better the more comfortable everyone gets with the material. Going into the latest, Mockingjay- Part 1 (which is based off half of the final text in the book trilogy), that upward trend certainly continues. 

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay- Part 1 is the pinnacle of the Hunger Games series. A payoff of two years of buildup that finally cements this series as the main example of how to do these Young Adult book adaptations. It may have taken a while to get to the peak, but the view is totally worth it.  

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NYKFF Review: A Hard Day photo
NYKFF Review: A Hard Day
by Alec Kubas-Meyer

Every so often, I see a film and think that the title is a perfect encapsulation of its very existence. If I were to name the film, those are exactly the words I would have chosen. A Hard Day is that exactly, in part because it's a massive understatement. It's a hilariously perfect name because it is a Hard day but isn't just a hard Day. It starts off as a Hard Night, and then it gets to the day... and then there's another night. And then there's a day. And with each new event, you think, "Oh wow... Well, it can't get any worse than that."

And then it gets worse.

[For the next week, we will be covering the 2014 New York Korean Film Festival. For more information, check here. For all of our coverage, click here.]

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NYKFF Review: The Attorney photo
NYKFF Review: The Attorney
by Alec Kubas-Meyer

If you look up stills from The Attorney, you're going to have a wildly inaccurate perception of what the film is supposed to be. Look at the poster. They're happy, right? Below you'll find another image of people being happy. Head to Google, everyone is happy happy happy. You see that and you think, "Is this a lighthearted courtroom drama?" And you'd be forgiven for thinking that, because most of the released images give that impression. I had to go out of my way to find the more other, more somber image below.

The Attorney isn't happy. There's some laughter, especially in the first half of the film, but it's a film about a particularly unpleasant time in recent Korean history, and what initially appears to be that lighthearted drama quickly turns into something very, very dark. 

[For the next week, we will be covering the 2014 New York Korean Film Festival. For more information, check here. For all of our coverage, click here.]

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Review: The Homesman photo
Review: The Homesman
by Megan Porch

Life in the early days of pioneer life was harsh and unforgiving. The loneliness and desperation to make things work was enough to drive people to either do anything they could, or go mad trying. The glimpses of frontier life in Tommy Lee Jones' new film, The Homesman, are honestly terrifying to imagine.

The story focuses on Mary Bee Cuddy (played by Hilary Swank), a woman who lives alone in a small pioneer town, who volunteers to take three women who've lost their minds back to a city where they can be taken care of. Each of the women's husbands are supposedly incapable of caring for them, though as the story goes on, the truth about these men becomes more and more awful.

Cuddy finds help in the form of a man named George Briggs (Tommy Lee Jones), and the two of them set off across the frontier with nothing but the three women, a wagon, some horses, and two guns.

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Review: Dumb and Dumber To photo
Review: Dumb and Dumber To
by Nick Valdez

Twenty years is a long, long time. I was five years old when Dumb and Dumber first hit theaters in 1994, so the madcap antics of Harry and Lloyd appealed to me. Fart jokes, sex jokes I was not yet old enough to comprehend completely, murder, slapstick, and two actors in their prime at the center of it all. 

But as I've gotten older, so has the nature of comedy. Comedic films have gotten far more sophisticated with their dick jokes and has evolved beyond what it once was. But Dumb and Dumber To hopes we have just a bit more nostalgic room in our hearts for one more romp with these two goofs. 

It's just when you see what they've become, it's hard not to feel ashamed for everyone involved. 

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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: Interstellar photo
Review: Interstellar
by Alec Kubas-Meyer

In SCREENWRITING 101, Film Crit Hulk devotes an entire chapter to plot holes. A subsection of that chapter specifically discusses the works of Christopher Nolan, using The Dark Knight as the primary example. Christopher Nolan has a reputation as a brilliant filmmaker but a subpar storyteller. At first glance, the films seem perfect, but in retrospect (and after multiple viewings), they're full of plot holes and many of his ideas simply don't make sense.

Hulk argues that people who focus on the negatives are missing the point and that the broken logic is irrelevant if it doesn't affect your enjoyment of the film as it progresses. What you feel in retrospect is less important than what you feel in the moment. If the moment works at the time, there's no real "plot hole" there, because clearly having a consistent plot wasn't the point. Christopher Nolan movies have always been about entertainment, and if the broken logic underlying one of his films doesn't stop it from entertaining you, then so what?

But unlike his Nolan's films, Interstellar has plot holes. You'll get caught up in the moment trying to piece together the puzzle at the time because certain moments seem to contradict each other within the narrative as presented, and then you might miss the next nonsensical moment that you have to then parse.

It's a testament to Nolan's talent as a filmmaker that it doesn't matter.

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Review: Open Windows photo
Review: Open Windows
by Nick Valdez

Open Windows was the first film I saw during SXSW 2014. I've never covered the festival before, so I had no idea what kind of features I'd end up exposing myself to. Going in I was awkward, tense, but mostly curious. As the film went on to elaborate and explore on the very nature of exposure itself, I found myself more entranced with the premise of Open Windows more so than its execution. 

But how much credit should a film get for my introspection? Tons actually. While Open Windows fumbles in a few areas, it's finely creepy, strangely arousing, but most importantly, it's compelling. 

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

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Review: Laggies photo
Review: Laggies
by Nick Valdez

I'm at a point in my life where I have absolutely no idea what to do next. I graduated from college two years ago and, even with all I think I've accomplished over that time, I sometimes feel like I'm walking in circles. Like I'm a turtle stuck in a mound of sand desperately trying to get back to the ocean. 

That's why Laggies appealed to me. It's a type of film that's been done many times in the past, but the cast of well placed actors helps anchor the film in a loose, humorous reality. Although it's not a complete reveal, it's a nice window into the millennial pause. 

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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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