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Review: Before I Fall

Mar 03 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]221343:43441:0[/embed] Before I FallDirector: Ry Russo-YoungRelease Date: Rating: PG-13  Up front (well, after the intro): I did not like the first third of Before I Fall. There are a variety of potential reasons for this, though most of them boil down to an inability to connect to the characters. They're popular girls; it's like a modern version of Mean Girls but without the funny. They're just terrible. And with a lack of humor, I had nothing to latch onto. I was never a teenage girl, but it's less that than the fact that I was never a popular teenager of any gender. I just simply couldn't relate. So, I was upset, because I wanted to like it, and the film was just making it so hard. But then things changed. Before I Fall's conceit is that its protagonist, Samantha (Zoey Deutch), dies in a car crash and then wakes up at the beginning of the same day. And even when she doesn't die in the car crash, she still wakes up the same day. It's "Cupid Day," a semi-bizarre variation on Valentine's Day. I've never heard anyone call it Cupid Day before, and at first I thought maybe it was a Pacific Northwest thing, since that's where the film is set, but apparently not; it comes from the book (which was actually set in New England). Looking up "Cupid Day" on Google brings up as its first result a question on Yahoo Answers specifically asking about its use in the book upon which this film is based (look at all the research I did for this review!). Still, it's definitely Valentine's Day because someone is like, "Happy Cupid Day" and someone else is like "THAT'S VALENTINE'S DAY TO YOU" and I dunno if that part was in the book. It felt kinda expository, like the moment was only there for the purpose of clarification... but whatever. Point is, its Cupid Day and that's what everyone says. (It's best not to get hung up on things like that.) We see the day play out. We see Samantha and her friends as garbage people. We see that there's something in Samantha that could be not garbage, but that only matters so much when she also shouts that the sad girl is a "Psycho." She piles on like everyone else. She's still a bad person. And then she dies, and she spends the rest of the film atoning for that sin.  Her first repeated day is whatever. I knew the conceit, so I more-or-less knew how it was gonna go down. She was still not a good person, but she was a not-good person who was starting her transition. But even if those glimmers of worthwhileness began around here, she was still fundamentally not worth caring about.  I don't remember if it's the next day or the one after, but at some point she decides to dress differently. She dresses like a goth kid. She wears all black, gets all made up, and then she starts speaking her mind to people. She calls out her friends on their shit. She then has a really awkward interaction with her teacher (I cringe just thinking about it), and she does it all because she has realized that it doesn't matter. That she is going to wake up the next day the same as ever. So why not be a different her for a day (maybe one that's closer to the real her? At this point, we don't actually know, though the answer seems to be "not quite" (though that begs the question of why she had those clothes in the first place))?  And that was interesting, of course, because we see different sides of the character, but it wasn't even that that did it for me; she goes in to the bathroom that I guess has been designated the one lesbian girl's bathroom, and then the two of them talk. And the talk that they have is genuinely interesting. It wasn't just showing more of Samantha, though it did do that; it was making a point about everything that those characters were. To paraphrase (because I didn't write down the actual line): "In two years, I won't remember any of you." And you look at Samantha's friends, the popular kids, and you think about where they're going to be in two years. After high school: Will they Matter? Will anyone remember them? The sickest parties and the cutest boys in high school are, one would assume, chump change compared to what's to come. But that's what they care about. Being cool. People thinking their cool. And the people who are actually cool are just biding their time until they don't have to deal with that shit anymore. (They'll have to deal with other shit, but that's not the point.) At that point, it becomes like a different movie, a movie about misfits. Because the truth is that, though Samantha somehow joined up with the popular girls, it's not really who she is. She isn't as "weird" as some of the people are, but she's definitely a lot less judgmental of oddities than she puts on. And as Before I Fall begins to explore that, it's suddenly like watching a different, much better movie. Samantha became multi-faceted, and her relationships became compelling. What happens with the family I found to be particularly feels-worthy, and it was this stuff, actually, that made me cry. Yeah. Before I Fall made me cry. And it wasn't like a cheap thing either. They didn't have to kill a cute animal (or even a person); they just had to start to mend something that was on the verge of being broken. I have a sister who is quite a bit younger than I am. I was definitely dismissive of her in the way that Samantha is of hers. But Samantha, as the day repeats and repeats, decides to own up to this and try to make things better. I felt that so freaking hard. (After the film ended, I immediately texted my sister to tell her I loved her.) And it wasn't just that. Many of the character arcs pay off in ways that feel honest in an almost surprising way, because sometimes the ways they get to those conclusions don't make a lot of sense. Certain characters do things that seem out of place, but where they end up as a result of them still works. It could be an adaptation thing: In the pages of the book, there is more time to get a character from A to B to C and so on, but we have to skip a few letters to get it into a film. But whatever the reason, it doesn't ultimately matter. What matters is how it feels right. Very right. In the first third of the film, I was just thinking, "Man, I want to go home and watch The Edge of Seventeen again." And, admittedly, I think that a lot, but after the switch, I thought, "No... this is the only thing I want to be watching. This is the thing that matters." And it does matter, because it really does get into some of the seedier aspects of high school popularity, and the gross things people do in order to move up a level. Also, it made me cry.
Before I Fall Review photo
Putting it on replay
If you read my Top 15 Movies of 2016 list, then you'll know that at the very top (number 0) was The Edge of Seventeen. Also worth noting: my favorite movie of ever continues to be Joseph Kahn's Detention. From that, we can de...


Divergent Series final chapter, Ascendant, going straight to TV

And Hell, if we're lucky ...
Jul 21
// Rick Lash
Remember back in May when Allegiant bowed to a $29 million opening weekend and the CEO of Lionsgate (the Dream Team behind the Divergent series films) said, "Yeah, our movie is the worst"? Me neither, but it happened! Well, n...
Peculiar Trailer photo
Peculiar Trailer

First trailer for Tim Burton's Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Mar 15
// Nick Valdez
While Tim Burton has fallen off a bit lately, his films are still worth watching for interesting stuff alone. And it looks like thanks to the strange world of Ransome Riggs' novel, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children ...
TMNT 2 Trailer photo
Heroes in a half sequel
Everyone has their own opinion of 2014's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Production was troubling from the get go, but the final product wasn't as rough as I figured. Sure it wasn't the best film, and it's still nowhere near as...

NYFF Review: Microbe & Gasoline

Oct 01 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]219843:42635:0[/embed] Microbe and Gasoline (Microbe et Gasoil)Director: Michel GondryRated: n/aRelease Date: TBDCountry: France Daniel (Ange Dargent) is an introverted budding artist with an eye for portraits as well as the crude porno pics he hides under his bed. He's small and looks younger than 14, which is why everyone calls him "Microbe." Worse, most people mistake him for a girl. There's the new kid, Theo (Theophile Baquet), who has a penchant for swagger, Michael Jackson leather jackets, and tinkering with machines. He's poor and there's grease under his fingernails, so they call him "Gasoline." The outsiders bond over a sound board that Gasoline has attached to his bike handles. It's a movie, and they're loners who represent divergent social classes and upbringings. So of course they become friends. It's the logic of the misfit buddy movie, and I don't object to it. Misfits attract misfits, but like magnets, the bond between cinematic misfits is between opposite poles rather than like ones. That might be why so many misfit kid movies often feature groups comprised of individual specialists--the tough one, the scientific one, the artsy one, the charismatic one, the one who knows Spanish--rather than people who are identical. Besides, who wants to hang out with someone who's exactly the same? How boring. Microbe and Gasoline are both 14, which is that point when kids want to be (or seem) more adult but don't quite know how that works. They act like they think adults should act, which is mostly learned from movies and TV rather than life. At a costume party, the boys are dressed like old men, and they loaf on the couch, world weary and judgmental, though Microbe looks on longingly at a girl from class. As Microbe obsesses over his crush, Gasoline offers advice as if he's had a decades-long history of loves and losses. There are limits to maturity, no matter how precocious a teenager is, and most of the comedy is rooted in this teenage worldview. It pervades the whole film, but it really takes charge in the second half of Microbe and Gasoline. With school out for the summer, the boys build a mobile home and go out on the road together. Many of Michel Gondry's films have an adorably ramshackle, handmade look about them, like the sweded movies in Be Kind Rewind or the hand-drawn animation from his Noam Chomsky documentary Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy? The boys' mobile home--part tiny house, part go-kart--is such a Gondry-looking contraption; wood, nuts, bolts, inventive gimmickry. You feel the splinters and rust, same goes for the gas fumes. From here the film embarks on an odyssey through Gondryland, and the teenage point of view takes over completely. The danger of being a runaway is relatively low. There's just freedom. Some might find the shift from a grounded world to Gondryland jarring. Picture riffs on fairy tales by way of Jean-Luc Godard's Weekend and you get some inkling of what happens. But I felt this change was a charming way to invoke the youthful promise of summer. It also shows just how out of their element the boys are. The parents have no sway over the kids, so the kids have to find their own way. (Microbe's mom is played by Audrey Tautou of Amelie fame, though she's a bit of a non-presence in the film even before summer begins.) Plus, it's all pretty funny. Earlier I mentioned the idea of sameness and difference when it comes to the people we hang out with. This become an important component of Microbe and Gasoline's friendship, and maybe most friendships. Our teenage years are about trying to figure out what adulthood is like, sure, but they're really about trying to define ourselves. Microbe is worried he's too much of a blank slate, and he's anxious that other people are doing the work of defining him, including Gasoline. And we do wind up mimicking our friends to a certain degree just like, earlier in life, we mimicked our parents/guardians and siblings. It's the inescapable fact of interaction. This is all a roundabout way of saying that the friends we love--the ones that matter and that we think of even years later after losing touch--are people who changed us in some way. We take on some of their qualities, they take on some of ours, and in this synthesis of personalities there's something new that's brought out in ourselves and sometimes into the world. An inside joke, maybe, or an experience of some kind that wouldn't have existed without that other person. Gondry captures the way these kinds of friendships can change us, and why they're so important when we're young works-in-progress. Even when Microbe and Gasoline leaves grounded reality, it's all tethered to that genuine, warm feeling we get whenever we meet and befriend someone who really gets us. The boys made a sweet ride, but not a saccharine one.
Review: Microbe & Gasolin photo
Friendship is magic
When Michel Gondry writes his own films, I've noticed that his protagonists have a tendency to act like quirky, whimsical teenagers. The misfit oddballs of The Science of Sleep and Be Kind Rewind probably found a Zoltar machi...

The Splat photo
The Splat

Nickelodeon reviving 90's programming with The Splat

Olmec now, Olmec forever
Sep 25
// Nick Valdez
Remember the Nicktoons channel? It was this channel dedicated to past Nickelodeon cartoons like Rugrats or As Told By Ginger that was phased out in favor another outlet for their live programming. But with the 90s nostalgia b...
Allegiant Trailer photo
Allegiant Trailer

First trailer for The Divergent Series: Allegiant exists

Sep 16
// Nick Valdez
The worst criticism I can give a film (which my roommate hates) is when I say a film just "exists." By that, I usually mean the film isn't good or bad enough to warrant an actual opinion. Through my tenure here I've been expo...
Mockingjay Part 2 Trailer photo
Mockingjay Part 2 Trailer

Newest Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 trailer is astoundingly bad

Sep 16
// Nick Valdez
I've been looking forward to the final Hunger Games film since I liked Mockingjay - Part 1 more so than everyone else, apparently. The second half of Mockingjay (before its terrible ending) is much better than the first, but ...
Mockingjay Part 2 photo
Mockingjay Part 2

Comic-Con teaser for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 is red all over

We are a part of the rhythm nation
Jul 10
// Nick Valdez
I've been all for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay's advertising since the beginning. Part 1 had a anti-propaganda take, and Part 2 follows the same route. Although we'll eventually get regular trailers and teasers soon, they'll ...

Poster for the New Goosebumps Movie is Surprisingly Badass

Jack Black is R.L. Stine
Jul 07
// John-Charles Holmes
Apparently, there's a Goosebumps movie coming out soon-- You know, those books they always sold at your school book fair that were equal parts cheesy, weird, and occasionally horrifying? Columbia Pictures released the poster ...

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials gets a Minecraft trailer because...teens?

How do you do, fellow kids?
Jul 06
// Matt Liparota
The Maze Runner franchise is another one of those "teens railing against The Man in a dystopian future" stories that I don't get because I'm an old, cranky man still complaining about the Harry Potter movies. Anyway, kids see...
Scorch Trials  photo
Scorch Trials

First official trailer for Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials

May 19
// Nick Valdez
Although I don't remember liking The Maze Runner too much, I did appreciate what it did differently from all of the other Young Adult book films floating around. A testosterone riddled film full of run and gun dumb action. It...

Review: Unfriended

Apr 17 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
[embed]218828:42143:0[/embed] UnfriendedDirector: Levan GabriadzeRelease Date: April 17, 2015Rating: R  Unfriended is about a girl who doesn’t know how to use Cmd+C. Her name is Blaire (get it?), and the film takes place entirely on her computer screen. And I do mean entirely. Throughout, you can see her system bar and her various tabs. There are bits and pieces of a person there, most of which are probably nonsense on close inspection but serve to create a relatively effective illusion of a teenage female. I mean, she has a tumblr. Sadly, you never get to see her tumblr, just stare at the concept of it up in the tab bar while you’re trying to avoid looking at whatever is happening elsewhere onscreen (because you’re me, and you’re very easily startled).  What Unfriended does is complicated. It’s complicated for a lot of reasons, and for that reason alone it’s deserving of praise in a way that, say, Paranormal Activity is not. Paranormal Activity is scarier than Unfriended, but Unfriended is far more technologically compelling. Rather than a couple of people in a house, it’s half a dozen people in as many houses. These people are all linked by a single Skype conversation, one that starts and stops for various reasons. But sometimes it’s going and the audience doesn’t get to see what’s happening, because Blaire is too busy looking at her Facebook. Or at least the Facebook of her dead classmate. I shot a film a few weeks ago. A fair portion of that film takes place in a chatroom or on Google or looking at a narrative-relevant website. I had to make a fake website and doctor Google results. I had to attempt to make these things look like they were real. It was complicated. Now I’m in editing, and I’m running into a different issue: How best to cut between a character and his words? There are a whole lot of different ways to tackle this issue. There’s the recent trend towards chat bubbles showing up onscreen. That’s ostensibly the best of both worlds, but it’s also really silly looking. You can’t have something be dramatic (like my film) or horrific (like Unfriended) and use that effect. So you cut back and forth, but you don’t know how fast your audience is at reading. And you have to hold on the text, but that kills the pacing of the scene, because you want some dead time to look at the face of your character. But you need it to be faster than that, because if people get bored watching some dude in a chatroom, they won’t get to the good parts of the movie. It’s a fine line. You may think that Unfriended doesn’t have to walk it, given that it’s essentially 100% chatroom, but it does. It has to be even more careful, because staring at a Skype chatroom is fine and visually diverse, but an iMessage conversation? For more than a minute? And nothing else? You have to make sure that the pacing of that conversation is flawless, but you also have to make sure that everyone has the time to grasp it. Blaire will go to a website, give the speedreaders in the audience enough time to read something, and then she’ll go over it with her cursor to help along the people who didn’t realize they were supposed to be looking at the ridiculously large text that that forum commenter used on his narratively important response. When she’s having those conversations or looking at those websites, you don’t see Blaire’s face. You have to discern her feelings from her mouse movements and clicks, and the pauses in her typing. You have to assume a lot of things about her and about the way she acts. You need to assume that she’s uncomfortable, and that’s why she paused here, or she was scared and that’s why she rushed. If you can’t accept that, you will have to project your own emotions onto her actions, then you won’t be able to watch this movie for more than ten minutes. She may “be” a “person,” but if you don’t see her in that Skype bubble, she may as well be an avatar in a not-particularly-fun text adventure that you don’t get to control. And hell, even if you do see her in the corner, well, I guess it’s a Let’s Play. A Let’s Play of a really uncomfortable Alternate Reality Game (ARG).  But there’s something fundamentally off-putting about our main character’s inability to use keyboard shortcuts; the act of copying and pasting requires a long and complicated series of mouse clicks. She can’t be like a regular person, Cmd+C, Cmd+V, done. She has to right click… copy… right click… paste. And we have to witness each agonizing moment of this action, over and over again, because she sure does like copying and pasting. (I mean, who doesn’t? It’s super useful. But when your movement is hampered by the fact that your audience might get confused if your character were to use a keyboard shortcut, then you become unrelatable. Here is a high school girl who types and texts like a high school girl, but she’s not a high school girl, because high school girls probably don’t even know that right click to copy/paste is even an option. Why would they? Nobody uses that shit. Except Blaire.) Oh, Blaire. Blaire. Blaire. Blaire. What are we going to do with you? In this group of stereotypes, only Blaire really seemed to like Laura Barns. Laura Barns is the dead classmate I mentioned all the way back when. Exactly one year before this film takes place, Laura Barns committed suicide. Why? Because someone posted a really unpleasant video, starring her extremely drunk  self. The video was called, “Laura Barns Kill Yourself” or something to that effect. People agreed. Then she did. (It’s worth noting that the actual suicide, which you see footage of relatively early on, very easily could have failed to kill her. She held the gun at arm’s length, pointed it towards herself, and eventually pulled the trigger. If the paramedics had gotten there in time, she very possibly could have survived. How traumatic would that have been, huh?)  A year later, she decides to fuck with some people who she may or may not have been friends with. Blaire was one of them, and then the other people in Blaire’s friend group. There’s her boyfriend, Mitch, who is strong (you know that, because his profile picture is of him flexing); Adam, who also looks kind of strong but isn’t Blaire’s boyfriend; Jess, who is blonde; Ken, who is a l33t hacker (you know because he’s fat and smokes weed); and then Val, who is skanky (you know because her name is Val). I just looked at the IMDb cast list and saw other names, so apparently there are other people in the film. Color me surprised, because I can’t remember a single one of them. So anyway: Laura died, right? A year later, she comes back to haunt everyone there. Not because they had anything to do with it, necessarily, but because they’re associated with people who did. Or they didn’t stop her. Or something. I dunno. Point is, she’s out for blood. Yada yada yada. People die. Whatever. But here’s an interesting little tidbit: The film was shot in one take. There were reshoots, of course, and I expect that the vast majority of the things we see onscreen were created in post rather than at the time, because let me tell you, it is difficult to take a webpage and then make a visually identical but slightly functionally different.  When you see a version of Skype that won’t let you end a call, that’s not some quick and simple fix. That took work, whether it was some crazy pre-production development or some graphical finessing in post. It’s. Not. Easy. Nor is doing an 80 minute movie in a single take, but that’s what Unfriended did. They didn’t have to, of course. As we’ve established, many of the characters are offscreen for any number of reasons at any given time. But they did it in one take anyway. A few pickups and inserts aside, this film was done in one go. That’s fascinating, but the fundamental logic behind the decision says a lot about both the actors and their relationship to the source material.  Shelley Hennig, who played Blaire, was having problems with the 10 minute long takes they were doing. She was having trouble keeping the energy up between takes, and to her it seemed easier to just do the whole thing without stopping. Here’s what this says about her: She’s not a film actress. She’s a theatre actress. In an overly long analysis of Birdman, I discussed some of the things that make each unique, and by shooting Unfriended in one take, it actually goes a long way towards making the film a true example of theatre. Or maybe a Let’s Play. (Seriously, this movie is a lot like a Let’s Play.) Here’s what it says about her relationship to the source material: They didn’t connect, not on a fundamental level. She did a perfectly fine job in the film, and I won’t deny her that, but she’s working with subpar material, and she knows that. They all know that. How could they not? It’s a movie about a haunted Skype session. Literally. That’s so stupid! And that stupidity can make it hard to keep up intensity and energy. As theatre, where things can go wrong but you just keep going, there’s a spark of intensity and fire that builds up as time goes on. Film doesn’t have that, because the fundamentals of how a movie is constructed make it impossible to keep building that. You build, cut, rebuild, cut, rebuild. I greatly enjoy film acting, but the things I like about it are in direct opposition of the things I greatly enjoy about theatrical acting. The way that this film was designed meant that they could have their theatrical experience played against some not-so-hot material. They got into character and just went from there. It was a smart move. I imagine that the film, had it been filmed in chunks, would have felt less cohesive as a result. Because if it feels anything, it’s cohesive. This is surprisingly effective worldbuilding. It’s a deadly ARG. I could imagine some elaborately designed websites and forum posts and fabricated Google results that all point to the mistake that all of these characters make: Don’t respond to dead people. If your dead classmate sends you a Facebook message, fucking ignore it. Is it slightly unfair that they only learned that rule after they had responded to the ghost? Yes. But the movie doesn’t happen if everyone’s like, “Lol! I ain’t falling for your shit, ghost!” So we have to have stupid characters who will do stupid things and make stupid decisions. Otherwise there’s no film. You rescind your right to criticize that kind of idiocy when you buy a ticket for a horror movie called Unfriended. But you know what’s interesting about the framing narrative? It’s oddly believable that all of these characters would stay on the computer, that they would, in a sense, keep filming. This is a horror movie where the characters don’t really “split up.” A character goes to check out a scary noise, and he brings his laptop with him. That makes sense. Of course he does! He wants the emotional support of the people closest to him. They try to hang up on the Skype call, but if they open it back up, the ghost didn’t go away. And then if they tried to leave for good? Well, let’s just say they have reason to believe that things might take a turn. If I had been watching Unfriended surrounded by people I knew, it would have been a different experience. I usually refuse to allow conversation while I’m in a theater or even at home watching something on TV. But here’s a different story. I said many, many words ago that I was covering my eyes for much of Unfriended. That’s true. I had one eye closed for nearly the entire runtime. As soon as things got scary, I winced and didn’t unwince until the credits rolled. I spent certain parts of the film staring at the audience. Not their reactions, just the backs of their heads. I knew that what was going on the screen would probably make me scream like a small child, and I really didn’t need anybody to see that. Because Unfriended is effective in the exact same way that Paranormal Activity is effective. There are long periods of time where nothing happens, and then suddenly the loudest goddamn noise you’ve heard in your life blares through the speakers. You jump. It’s not “scary” necessarily, but it makes me jump every single time. I know it’s coming, because absolute silence in movies of this sort is never punctuated with anything but a BANG. But the wait to get to that sound can be agonizing. And when it comes, the results are mixed. Sometimes it's dumb or obscured by weird movement or whatever. And then sometimes it is legitimately fucked up. Nothing in Paranormal Activity actually disgusted me. Several things in Unfriended did. The imagery is just… ugh. (I’m thinking in particular of an image macro posted later in the film. You’ll know the one.) But the imagery comes at key points in the narrative, and perhaps the filmmakers should be applauded for understanding the peaks and valleys required of a narrative like this. When I think about the meticulous sense of pacing that the film sometimes has, I think about this: There's a moment in the film where the ghost sends an image file to everyone in the group. After much discussion (or at least people saying "DON'T CLICK THAT!"), Blaire clicks it. The file takes at least 14 seconds to download. Fourteen agonizing seconds. And you wonder: Is this real time? Are we waiting because they're waiting? Or is this to build up the anticipation of this image, because we might have some idea what it is, but we don't really know. The second image she downloads is done in under a second. The team knew that audiences wouldn't stand for that again. So they didn't make them. They went off to the next trick. They had plenty of tricks available, because there are so many things that can be done with social media and breaking the rules as the characters understand them, but also as we understand them. We can relate to how creepy it would be if suddenly we couldn't drop mysterious figures from Skype calls or if we suddenly couldn't unfriend particularly problematic Facebook friends.  But then again, the film features an extended sequence where Blaire, understandably freaking out, slightly less understandably turns to ChatRoulette to find help. What follows is legitimately bizarre and completely destroys the tension the movie has built up. Throughout, there are moment like that. I wouldn't call the film "self-aware" necessarily, but I would call it "a-typical" in a fascinating way. I mean, as generic as its actual storyline is, its presentation is still unique and executed quite well. It's not the first film to do the whole "Takes place entirely on a screen" thing, but it absolutely is the first film to try it on this scale (the recently released Open Windows is far less complex), and I think everyone deserves props for pulling it off. You could much worse than Unfriended. And that may be the most shocking thing of all.
Unfriended Review photo
Let's Play a game
I went into Unfriended expecting garbage. I told multiple people that I was on my way to the screening, and they asked why. I told them I didn’t know, but I was expecting terrible things. The trailer compared itself to ...


New Insurgent posters will teach you to spell the word 'insurgent'

Give me an I! Give me an N! Give me a...
Mar 05
// Matt Liparota
If you're at all fuzzy on how to spell the title of the upcoming film Insurgent, the latest set of posters for the movie has got you covered (okay, technically the full title is The Divergent Series: Insurgent, but whatever)....
Insurgent Super Spot photo
Insurgent Super Spot

Super Bowl TV spot for The Divergent Series: Insurgent

Jan 29
// Nick Valdez
With as interesting as the Divergent sequel, Insurgent, may be, I really hoped it would've fixed its CG issues by now. It's a shame too because the whole dreamscape aspects are putting out all sorts of crazy Matrix vibes (al...
Unfriended photo

Unfriended looks like a made for TV movie, but is coming to theaters anyway

Jan 14
// Nick Valdez
Losing out on a big chance to debut with a neat viral thing, here's the first trailer for Unfriended. A horror film taking place on computer screens, it's about a group of friends on a skype call as they're haunted by t...
Insurgent Trailer photo
Insurgent Trailer

First full trailer for The Divergent Series: Insurgent

Dec 15
// Nick Valdez
I liked the first Divergent film enough. Although it's basically a thinly veiled message of "Everyone sucks but me because I'm different," everything was just super cheesy and bad looking enough to work. It's better than the...

Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1

Nov 21 // Nick Valdez
[embed]218609:41995:0[/embed] The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1Directors: Francis LawrenceRelease Date: November 21st, 2014 Rating: PG-13 Based off some of Suzanne Collins' novel of the same name (to say where the cutoff point is would spoil it, sorry), Part 1 follows Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) just a short time after the events of Catching Fire (and for those oddly just joining, there's a quick recap which is something I truly appreciate). As District 13's President Coin (Julianne Moore) wants to film propaganda to turn Katniss into a symbol of the coming war with the Capitol (the titular "Mockingjay"), Katniss realizes President Snow (Donald Sutherland) has been keeping Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) alive in order to send her messages. As she discovers what kind of toll the war with the Capitol has taken on the Districts (as instability reaches a fever pitch), she has to decide whether or not she wants to move forward with the fight. Also some guy named Gale (Liam Hemsworth) is there, but he still refuses to do anything notable.  To be honest, I rolled my eyes when I first heard the final book would be split into two films. When you read the book itself there doesn't seem to be enough content to necessitate the split as the second half is really just one extended action sequence. I feared we'd get another Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows situation where one half is clearly superior to the other. With Part 1 my fears haven't been completely alleviated, but I don't really care. Part 1 is damn entertaining. Fixing a lot of the series' hokier elements, and finally exploring the nature of its dystopia, Part 1 is just a massive improvement all around.  For example, the tone is handled much better than before. In the first two films, the tone fluctuated rapidly It came across as comedic at times during inappropriate moments as the love triangle was forced into the forefront, or when death fights felt less threatening because Katniss was more of a superhuman than not. But there's no room for that here. While the darker tone might be a slight turn off (it's unfortunately overbearing at times as there's no ease, unless you count that one forced moment of Katniss singing by a lake), it gives weight to the world. Katniss is finally in some sort of danger and less in control than ever. And with that powerless direction, Jennifer Lawrence at last has something to work with as she's less wooden here in Part 1 than ever.  Anchoring a set of actors who've found their groove, Lawrence delivers on her initial promise. As Katniss emotes for the first time in the entire series, Lawrence makes sure to nail each opportunity. For example when Katniss delivers her speech to the Capitol after some violent events in District 8, I had a huge smile on my face. I don't know how I became so involved in a scene with such a funky set up (and it's even more egregious in text form), but with every crack in her voice, every boom, Lawrence reels you in. And the rest of the cast is no slouch either as the freedom of the new premise (we're no longer trapped in the "put on a show/fight in the games" setup of the first two films) gives every character but Gale something to do. Josh Hutcherson's physicality is finally put to some use (he's no longer lying on the ground all the time), Julianne Moore is a bit stiff but it works for her character, and Philip Seymour Hoffman's going to be truly missed as his Plutarch steals the show. Unfortunately, Part 1 isn't without its faults. Like most films of its ilk, it still falls into the same genre trappings as before (there's still a weird love triangle that feels more out of place than before, Katniss is more of an "It" Girl than ever). It's like a two steps forward, one step back situation. The film also has an odd pace issue which must be a result of splitting the story in two. A lot of the scenes feel like they're meant for some sort of Director's Cut as they're extended far beyond their welcome. That's not to say I didn't enjoy most of these scenes, but some of those longer scenes could be a deal breaker. It completely relies on emotional investment, so I could definitely see someone fighting with boredom by its end.  After my screening, I overheard a conversation between two women and it almost made me second guess myself. As the woman told her friend, "Nothing happened in that movie," I realized exactly how someone could see it that way. You have to know what you're getting into when a film has "Part 1" in its title. When broken down to the essential beats, Mockingjay - Part 1 is all setup for the final film in the series. But what I want you to understand is that it's damn good setup. Sure it's setting plot points for a later date, but there's also an arc (as the series finally elaborates on the meaning of imagery in its world) that's wonderfully realized here as well.  For once in this series, I truly want to see what's coming next instead of going through the motions because I've read the books.  The ultimate goal of the first part of a two part film is to make the audience anticipate the second half while still feeling like a complete film in its own right. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 accomplishes that and then some (At some points it's even better than the source material). I hope Part 2 can keep this momentum.
Mockingjay Part 1 Review photo
Smoke, she is a rising fire
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...

Insurgent Teaser photo
Insurgent Teaser

First official teaser trailer for The Divergent Series: Insurgent

Nov 13
// Nick Valdez
Despite some hangups, I liked Divergent. It's got an interesting world and the cast was well put together, but the whole thing was just stuck in cement. Pace was mishandled, the world was skipped over in favor of two ho...
Mockingjay Trailer photo
Yeah we got that fire, fire, fire
With the final trailer for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, the awesome marketing this film has had comes to a close. From great propaganda style teasers and posters, to how few trailers for the film we actually got (usu...

Mockingjay Part 1 photo
Mockingjay Part 1

Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 teaser shows off new footage

Oct 16
// Nick Valdez
This newest teaser for The Hunger Games Mockingjay - Part 1 is short (clocking in at barely over a minute), but boy does it work. Showing off Lorde's new single "Yellow Flicker Beat," the teaser reveals what happens when Katniss makes her way back to District 12. Let's just say things are going to get pretty good.  The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 releases November 21st. 
Hungah Games photo
Hungah Games

Here's Lorde's Hunger Games: Mockingjay single "Yellow Flicker Beat"

"Red, orange, yellow flicker beat sparking up my heart"
Oct 02
// Nick Valdez
Although she's been a great contributor on the Hunger Games films soundtracks, Lorde has never got the headlining spot (that honor went to Taylor Swift's "Safe & Sound" for the first film and Coldplay's "Atlas" for Catch...
Maze Sequel photo
Maze Sequel

The Maze Runner getting a sequel because money

Sep 23
// Nick Valdez
With the way Young Adult book films are made these days, production on a sequel has begun before the first film is even released. Thus when a film gets a successful run through the box office (or at the very least, a successf...

Review: The Maze Runner

Sep 19 // Nick Valdez
[embed]218347:41842:0[/embed] The Maze RunnerDirector: Wes BallRated: PG-13Release Date: September 19, 2014  Adapted from James Dashner's novel of the same name, The Maze Runner follows Thomas (Dylan O' Brien) as he's dropped in the middle of a giant maze with a tribe of other young boys. Stripped of their memories, the boys learn that it's either survive in The Glade (the center of the maze which they call home) or take their chances with a labyrinth housing the Greavers, monsters who freely roam the maze at night. As Thomas slowly regains his memories, his curiosity draws him further and further into the ever adapting maze.  Amidst the bloated post-apocalyptic teen drama genre, The Maze Runner really stands out. Its testosterone fueled action and characters help to alleviate the plot above standard tropes like love triangles. Unfortunately, this doesn't mean Runner is unique as it chooses to mine older sources for material. The plot is definitely a myriad of stories you've seen/read before (Lord of Flies, and to a lesser extent, The Chocolate War), but to Runner's credit, it never wastes time getting to actions as it chooses to display numerous scenes of running rather than invest in its characters.  Runner's pace is an odd duck. At times its minimal take on world building is praise worthy as the mysteries of the labyrinth seem to unfurl naturally, but at other points, big reveals are just shotgunned out in some frenetic mess. With a haphazardly delivered plot such as this, it's hard to get invested in any of the characters. It's weird as I normally find myself always wanting to avoid origin stories, but I never quite thought about the absence of one. Perhaps forgoing the standard procedure would've been worthwhile had the main character Thomas had any interesting traits, but as is, he evolves from a salt pillar to a salt pillar with a few sprinkles of pepper. It's certainly telling when a few of the side characters stand out more than the guy at the center just because they've got sparks of personalities. Like Chuck (who's pretty much a depressing take on Chunk from The Goonies), who gets the most development out of any character just because of his highly telegraphed end.  But if you can get passed the lack of involvement with any of the characters, then there's quite a bit to enjoy. Runner looks great. Adding to all of the testosterone is a grimy, pulverized look. Each boy looks like they've lived in the wild in for some time without coming across as savage, and there's a sense of community in the way their homes are built. The real star of the show, the labyrinth itself, is a visual treat. Each time the characters run through, the action is fluid, speedy, and a nice amount of tension is squeezed from the maze's ever changing form. There may be too many scenes of running through tight spaces before someone is crushed, but they do look good each time. There's nary hint of green screen anywhere even when it's completely relied on.  And then there's the ending. Remember how I said some reveals are just shotgunned? That's the big problem here. There's a reveal at the end that only sours the entire experience further as it posits there'd be more sequels to come. It's jarring to be constantly running at a frantic pace to only be halted by future story to come. That's like saying the reward for solving the puzzle is more puzzles. Then again, that's only if you were invested in the first place.  The Maze Runner runs farther than other Young Adult films out there now, but it never quite wins the race. 
Maze Runner Review photo
Running in circles
As  Flixist's resident Young Adult novel correspondent, I've seen lots of forgettable teen films. With studios betting huge fortunes on these films becoming successful franchises (like Twilight and The Hunger Games), mos...

The Hunger Games photo
Hotter than a fantasy, lonely like a highwaaay
Looks like a girl, but she's a flame. As Flixist's resident Young Adult book advisor, I love me some Hunger Games (and will always exploit Alicia Keys' once hit single) and I'm glad the newest trailer finally shows off how d...

Mockingjay poster photo
Mockingjay poster

Katniss gives good back in this Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 poster

Sep 04
// Nick Valdez
She's just a girl, but she's on fire. November 21st can't come soon enough. 
Mockingjay posters photo
Mockingjay posters

District 13 character posters for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1

Aug 07
// Nick Valdez
Have you been enjoying The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1's minimalist advertising campaign so far? I definitely am, but it seems like the uniqueness is done with. Now that we've gotten our first proper teaser, we're proba...
Maze Runner Trailer photo
Maze Runner Trailer

Trailer for The Maze Runner features mazes and people running through them

Aug 01
// Nick Valdez
The Maze Runner has an idea I can get behind. Reminiscent of films like The Running Man, Runner drops these kids without memories into a secluded area and forces them to run through a giant maze filled with monsters. While i...

Review: Behaving Badly

Aug 01 // Nick Valdez
[embed]218137:41724:0[/embed] Behaving BadlyDirector: Tim GarrickRated: RRelease Date: August 1, 2014 (Theatrically and VOD) Based on the Ric Browde novel, While I'm Dead....Feed the Dog, Behaving Badly is the story of Rick Stevens (Nat Wolff), a teen who's caught in a chain of precarious situations. His mom's an alcoholic (Mary Louise-Parker), his brother's a meathead, his sister's a genius stripper (Ashley Rickards), his father's a cheater, his best friend is weird, and his best friend's mom (Elizabeth Shue) constantly wants to sleep with him. All the while, Rick just wants to go out with the girl of his dreams, Nina (Selena Gomez), and keep the Lithuanian mafia off his back.  If there's one thing I can't fault Badly for, it's certainly trying its best to accomplish something. It's so packed with ideas and quirks that we'd have some sort of coherent narrative if just one of those quirks were elaborated on. But as it stands, it's like Badly threw one of those 25 cent sticky hands at a wall hoping it'd stick, only to watch it slowly cascade down and gather all sorts of crud on the way. And when it falls, the film just throws the hand back at a different side of the wall hoping it'd stick better without changing hands. It's just the repeated notion of tossing out a poorly thought out idea, watching it fail, and retrying with that same idea and watching it fail again but with different characters in tow.  It's hard to completely critique Behaving Badly because I don't really know where most of the fault lies. Usually when I have problems with a film, I can pinpoint flaws and attribute them to one or two key areas, but it seems Behaving Badly's core wrecks everything else. With a faulty screenplay dampening the characters, I can't fault certain actors for wonky performances when everything is falling apart around them. In fact, I sort of want to praise their tenacity. Elizabeth Shue wonderfully cheeses the screen as this sexual deviant, and because she knows the role is terrible, she doesn't seem to give a damn about how she looks while doing it. It's a wonder to see. It's like watching the captain dance as the boat sinks. You know it's a terrible situation for everyone, but you just want to watch them celebrate doom.  The same goes for Mary Louise-Parker who gives her dual roles her patented trashy vixen finesse. One of the few good ideas Badly has in its repertoire is the "Saint of Teen Angst." It's certainly a neat idea that the main kid would hallucinate someone who'd be able to help him in his terribly depressing life, but it's probably a plot better suited for the novel. In the film, the Saint is a bookend more than anything. It's just a reminder of the poor execution plaguing the rest of the film. Even if you're a bigger fan of raunchy teen comedies than I am, you'll find little of worth here. There's a bit of nostalgia in its twisted delivery, as the main character talks to the audience directly numerous times, but the raunch is debilitating rather than be a clever flip of those old teen film tropes. Once again, it's all in the core execution.  Behaving Badly could've been good. It's got a neat idea (give a kid a depressing life but have him be completely oblivious to it), but is unfortunately smothered by bad choices. There's just so much going on at any particular moment, it's hard to grasp why any of it is necessary. And when you can't grasp any of the importance (or humor, really) of any of scenes, the whole thing melts together into a bubbling flesh pot of semen, bad jokes, Selena Gomez, random boobs, and STDs.  Behaving Badly should've behaved good-ly. 
Behaving Badly Review photo
"Badly" just about nails it
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 gen...

Hunger Games Teaser photo
This girl's still on fire
I'm loving the advertising campaign for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 so far. Continuing on with the minimalist teasers is the Comic-Con trailer which contains the first actual footage from the film. Not much is said...

FFS: Secondary Education photo
FFS: Secondary Education

Flix for Short: Secondary Education, a science themed Kamen Rider

May 27
// Nick Valdez
Secondary Education, a short by Jon Truei, takes tokusatsu influences (namely Kamen Rider and Power Rangers) and gives them a science spin to provide a fun, educational adventure. It's sort of like Ms. Frizzle from the Magic School Bus became a masked hero and fought a lobster man. You should give it a watch. [via io9]
The Giver photo
The Giver

Character posters for The Giver feature my boo, Taylor Swift

It's so weird Meryl Streep is in this.
May 26
// Nick Valdez
Although Taylor Swift said we'd never ever ever get back together, I'm still clinging on to hope because she's just the best person. As an example of this, she's in the upcoming film based on The Giver. Although the first tra...
Hungah Games photo
Hungah Games

First images of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1

Mock - yeah - ing - yeah - bird
May 16
// Nick Valdez
I've been a little hesitant toward the next film in the Hunger Games series ever since it was announced Mockingjay would be split into two parts. Mockingjay is my favorite in the trilogy (the first half anyway, go figure...

Review: Divergent

Mar 30 // Nick Valdez
[embed]217530:41375:0[/embed] DivergentDirector: Neil BurgerRated: PG-13Release Date: March 21, 2014  Divergent, based on Veronica Roth's popular novel of the same name, takes place in a world in post-war recovery. In order to keep the peace, society has broken up into five different factions based on a particular trait (Abnegation, Erudite, Amity, Candor, and Dauntless) and divides responsibilities among them (For example, Abnegation handles the government because they're selfless). There's a particular day each year where teens take a test, and choose which faction they belong to. On Beatrice's (Shailene Woodley) test day, she finds out she's a Divergent, someone who doesn't conform to any of the factions. From there she decides to join the Dauntless, meets a handsome guy named Four (Theo James), and has to hide her uniqueness before she's killed.  Unlike the other Young Adult book films I've covered here in the past, I had absolutely no background information for Divergent. Have never read the books, and I hadn't even heard about the property before the film was announced. Unfortunately that also means I don't know the trajectory of the franchise, and since the film doesn't see fit to have a clear direction until the last fifteen minutes, this is a bad state to be in. The film's major issue is that it relies entirely on how much we care about this dystopia and the people within. You're expected to take what little time you spend getting to know each character and converting that into a deep emotional investment for the finale. And unfortunately for this review, I can't go into how much the finale bugs me.  Trying to avoid majorly spoiling the film for those who don't know the story, I'll just say that my main issue over all is how badly managed the framing the story is spent. The majority of the film, while it fleshes out Tris well, is spent building up a faction we're going to abandon. Divergent has an interesting world in its hands, but unlike The Hunger Games, we know very little about its inner workings until we're thrown into the finale. One of the better things about the film is that its dystopia is built on such a unique premise. There's an innate struggle in how each person has to live their life based on one trait, yet they seem to display all sorts of characteristics. Later in the film, it poses the question of whether or not human nature can be tamed. And when it questions human nature, and forces Tris to look inside herself, Divergent really hits a high point.  Unfortunately as noted throughout the review, Divergent doesn't explore its world and its fundamental problems until the final third of the film. Until then, it's all about getting to know Tris and her love affair with Four. While this isn't necessarily a bad practice (as love affairs are a huge deal in these teen book flicks, and thankfully there isn't a love triangle), it's all so generic. It's a shame when you get a great world to play around in, and the film seems like its going to take a unique turn before the testing begins, it just all becomes this mush of a film you've seen hundreds of times before. Here it is: A girl finds out she's different than everyone else, tries to fit in, meets a guy who's also different, falls in love, and then it gets interesting again. So much of the interesting world's material seems to be left for later.  For example, Tris joins the Dauntless faction. The Dauntless are painted as the "good" faction as they're free to do what they want, yet as wild as they may seem, they police every other faction. There's a hint that the other factions despise the Dauntless, and that there is a restlessness between the factions, but it isn't really answered. There's certainly a hint that not every faction is as good as they seem (Dauntless seems to be the faction of choice, yet it's littered with jerks), but the greater aspects of the world seemed to be saved for later too. Kids take an aptitude test to find out what faction they'd be good for, and yet they eventually can decide for themselves what faction they go to. This aspect of choice vs the illusion of choice is a great thing, but never goes anywhere.  It's certainly not the fault of the cast that Divergent seems stale, as everyone seems to be on point (Zoe Kravitz, Jai Courtney, and Woodley in particular). They just don't get much to work with. Tris gets a wonderful line toward the end (along the lines of "why does everyone keep asking that?") that's helped with Woodley's delivery. And when the film kicks in toward the end, there are quite a few scenes that only work because of the cast. As interesting in premise as the finale is, it also suffers from generic actions beats (and one awful one liner), but it seemed to get a rise out of the audience I saw it in.  Divergent is a good sounding film with a great dystopia setting, yet it suffers from confident sequel syndrome. The ending of the film itself isn't a huge cliffhanger, and the film does wrap up one plot, but it could've managed its time better to deliver more story. For the majority of the film we're left with Tris and her wanting to join Dauntless, yet she abandons the faction in the finale. In doing so, investing time in something that essentially won't matter later, it becomes a giant waste of time. I hate to end this review saying something like "Divergent is a waste of time until a sequel comes out," but I just feel cheated. I feel like I can't score Divergent as it doesn't really become a film of its own, it's just all setup.  So much like Divergent, I'm just going to leave this hanging. 
Divergent Review photo
Diverges from entertainment
Back before the final Twilight film hit theaters, I wrote up an article in which I discussed whether or not certain Young Adult book films would be the "next big thing." My initial outlook for Divergent looked good, but that ...


First trailer for 'The Maze Runner' is intense

Gotta go faster, faster, faster-faster-faster
Mar 18
// Isabelle Magliari
The first trailer for the film adaptation of James Dashner's The Maze Runner has succeeded in making me curious about an upcoming film/ book trilogy that I didn't know existed until a few hours ago. This intense tr...
Mockingjay poster photo
Mockingjay poster

First Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I poster is on fire

Mock. Yeah. Ing. Yeah. Bird. Yeah
Jan 23
// Nick Valdez
It feels like The Hunger Games: Catching Fire came out just yesterday. With the final book in the series, Mockingjay, being split into two parts, expect one final push for The Hunger Games. Although The Hunger Games: Moc...
NF: Home for Christmas photo
NF: Home for Christmas

Nick's Flixmas: I'll Be Home For Christmas

This yule, be cool.
Dec 12
// Nick Valdez
Because it was on Netflix and I needed a film to fill the gap between now and the Twelve Days of Nick's Flixmas (which will officially start on the 14th since I'm considering Christmas Day as a part of this rather than end it...

Review: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Nov 22 // Nick Valdez
[embed]216866:40946:0[/embed] The Hunger Games: Catching FireDirector: Francis LawrenceRated: PG-13Release Date: November 22, 2013 The Hunger Games: Catching Fire takes place shortly after the events of The Hunger Games as Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) and Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) begin their Victory Tour, a ceremony across the twelve districts of Panem after their victory at the 74th Hunger Games. President Snow (Donald Sutherland) fears that Panem will go through an uprising, so he tries to get rid of Katniss by throwing her into the 75th Hunger Games (or the Quarter Quell) with 23 other previous winners. If that sounds like, pardon the pun, malarkey to you because you've just joined the series, there's no setup to help ease you in. So Catching Fire won't win any new fans that haven't invested the time, unfortunately. While there are multiple mentions of the events of the previous film shoehorned into the dialogue, you'll be hit with so much jargon and kooky names (and at such a fast pace), that it'll seem like buzzing noises for the most part. That jargon won't bother fans, however. And thankfully most of it stops halfway into the film when it gets to the actual games.  One of the biggest problems with the original film, for old and new fans alike, was how the time spent building up to the actual Hunger Games themselves was used shoddily building character. Since the Katniss in the novel version is so methodical and hardly speaks, it became a detriment to the visual version when everyone would just speak AT Jennifer Lawrence while she put on her best Grumpy McGrumpterton face. Thankfully, given the darker turn for series (Katniss' life is directly threatened at all times), Lawrence is given more to do than stoneface into the distance. And when Lawrence is given more to do, the rest of the setup comes together.  Rather than have everyone in the film sort of stumble around with melancholy (therefore making it dreadfully boring to watch when not executed well), the greater part of the film is dedicated to revealing the political struggles in Panem thanks to Katniss' action in the Games. During their Victory Tour we're allowed to see most of the other Districts in some kind of anguish using Katniss as a sort of symbol. Catching Fire finally Capitol-izes on the sociological criticism promised in the first film. In the same breath, however, that stuff isn't given enough screen time (something has to be saved for the next two sequels, I suppose). As the sequel chooses to focus more on Katniss' relationships than on her world (as most of the rebellions happen outside of Katniss' singular vision), the film runs into some unsuspected problems.  With so much focus on Katniss, it sheds a light on how terrible her love interests are. While Josh Hutcherson as Peeta emotionally gets more room to play around, it turns out he's really bad at it. Every time Hutcherson speaks, there's a wooden quality to it that's not much different from when Peeta's supposed to be faking his romance with Katniss. It becomes such a problem when a scene is meant to play out romantically instead feels forced or cornball when you can count on your fingers the five second pauses in between everyone's lines. And Liam Hemsworth as Gale? He's just a guy who says one thing, then something violent happens to him, and then does nothing again. Neither of the main males do anything for this "love triangle" that's being pushed here.  Now to finally get to why you're all here. How does the film look? Pretty damn swell. Compared to shaky action of the first film, Catching Fire does a far better job presenting action scenes. The actual games are a beauty to behold with an arena that's gorgeous (although the jungle setting could've used more vibrant colors in this drab greyish blob of a movie). There are also some impressive shots, with one crane shot in particular (both in the technical and physical sense, you'll see what I mean) looking absolutely gorgeous as Lawrence goes through a bevy of emotions. There are more than a few needless close ups of Lawrence crying but, for the most part, it all works. The only unfortunate stickler seems to be a wavering when trying to view something from far away. It's like the cameraman couldn't find quite exactly what he's supposed to be pointing at during certain scenes.  Although the film could use more color, at least it's mostly acted well. Other than the rough romantic patches mentioned before, now that the games are filled with adults instead of kids that still need acting school, everyone is cast well. Elizabeth Banks is wonderfully hammy as the colorful Effie (although that ham did lead to unintentional comedy during some dramatic moments), Woody Harrelson is Woody Harrelson, Lenny Kravitz is Lenny Kravitz and not much else, Stanley Tucci is still great, Jeffrey Wright plays a great oddball genius, Sam Claflin is attractive as the attractive Finnick, Jena Malone needs to be in more things, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman should have been in the series since the beginning.  But while the film looks better and has better content available, it doesn't save it from its overall cornball nature. A lot of imagery and exposition are dealt with a heavy hand (you'll know what I mean by the final scene), but at least it seems to be trying harder than the first film. Fans of the book series or fans of the first Hunger Games will love what they're given here as there's plenty to chew on (the cliffhanger's even better!). But for those who don't like Hunger Games in general, nothing here will convince you otherwise.  All in all, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire does indeed have both feet on the ground, and it's burning it down...but hopefully future flames will be brighter. 
Catching Fire Review photo
Looks like a girl, but she's a flame.
I'm a pretty big fan of The Hunger Games series of books. I tore through them in a day and while Catching Fire isn't my favorite in the series, it does have the most intriguing setups in the trilogy. The production for Catchi...

I Still Belieb trailer photo
I Still Belieb trailer

First trailer for Justin Bieber documentary, Believe

Do you Belieb in life after love?
Nov 18
// Nick Valdez
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...
Divergent Trailer photo
Divergent Trailer

Second trailer for Divergent diverges from the norm

A little bit different
Nov 14
// Nick Valdez
Awhile back I wrote an article claiming that Divergent was going to be "the next big teen thing." Ever since the Twilight Saga ended, there's been a notable void in the box office landscape for a romantic thriller for teens....

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